This page is the Porirua Children's and Young Adults' Librarian's view of life and books from the junior and teen sector of the literary world.
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ALHSSF 2015 guest illustrator Ned Barraud
Ned Barraud is the illustrator of the highly acclaimed children’s non-fiction series Explore and Discover, written by Gillian Candler. These must-have, highly readable reference books examine the natural environment of Aotearoa, New Zealand. The next instalment sees Ned delving into natural history, in Ancient New Zealand – Explore and Discover New Zealand’s Past. He also wrote and illustrated the children’s picture book, Moon Man, which he will read from when he holds a workshop at A-Long Hot Summer Story Festival, on January 6 at 2PM. Gillian Candler will conduct a writing workshop on January 14, at 2PM.
Although published as an author/illustrator, with an unpublished work – The Ghosties – in the pipeline, Ned does not not see himself as a writer. He has drawn from the moment he learned how to put pen to paper, and says, “Telling pictures with stories is what I’ve done as far back as I can remember.” He blames a tenuous grasp on spelling for making writing a painful process for him.
Drawing, on the other hand, is Ned’s “lifelong passion”, and he keeps very busy pursuing it. By day, he works as a texture painter at Weta Digital. By night, he illustrates books. Inspiration is never short: “I am inspired by strange creatures, whether real or fanciful. This is a preoccupation that has stayed with me, and has endless potential,” he says.
Spending so much time researching the natural world has given him an extensive knowledge of its make-up. He says if he could be anything but human he would an Orca whale (which he points out is actually a member of the dolphin family). “So powerful and at home with the ocean,” he says.
While he loves the freedom of fantasy – “You can go wherever your mind takes you” – the majority of his published work to date has forced him to work very factually, which he finds frustrating at times. Still, he concedes the end result gives him a great deal of satisfaction.
If he could live anywhere on Earth, he says it would be in a totally self-sufficient house, with a big vege’ garden and lots of chickens. “I have the chickens already.”
After years of working towards his current state of gainful employment, Ned’s advice to any fellow artistic dreams is: “Keep doing it and never stop. Draw/write/do what you love as much as you can.”
To book for Ned’s workshop on January 6, or Gillian Cander's workshop on January 14, RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org . Both workshops will take place in the Performing Arts studio in the Pataka complex.
Storyteller Mary Kippenberger
Mary Kippenberger and Peter Charlton-Jones have a great recipe for Rhubarb. First, you take the pair of them – she being an internationally renowned storyteller and children's book author, and he being a guitarist/singer/songwriter. Then you mix in a bunch of fairy tales, a helping of pantomime, some slightly wicked songs, lots of costumes, and a good chunk of any gathered audience. The result is highly musical, contagiously interactive storytelling, guaranteed to tickle the ribs of the whole family.
Husband and wife team Mary and Peter Charlton-Jones are taking time out from their busy lives on their farm in Otane, Central Hawkes Bay, to launch A-Long Hot Summer Story Festival at 5.30PM on Thursday, December 17. They really are like nothing you’ve ever seen before, and we are delighted they have managed to squeeze us into their busy schedule. I caught up with Mary to ask just what it is that makes their brand of magic so marvellous."
What’s the difference between huddling around storyteller and a candle and surfing You Tube lit only by the screen?
“The two experiences are so far apart. The relationship between the person telling the story and the person listening is simply that, a relationship, and without either party the experience doesn't exist. The experience is something that is shared, there are two or more people involved... It will involve eye contact and expression. It will involve positive acknowledgement from both sides, it could involve laughter or tears or both. It can challenge both sides. If something puzzles the listener or the teller they can talk about it, it might trigger shared memories.
“When you watch a YouTube clip there will be a level of communication. You might mutter at it if it doesn't make sense...I mutter a lot at YouTube Photoshop tutorials but there is no response; I keep talking, but it is to myself. I may laugh, yell or cry at some clips but it is a one-way experience. The maker of the clip has no idea that I am experiencing some kind of emotion or derision. There is no relationship. I have no way to feel the truth of the author or to ask questions, have a discussion or indeed to let them know that I think they are amazing. If I want to find out how to grow a tomato I can You Tube it and I will get ideas, but if I really want to learn how to grow tomatoes I talk to a gardener, ask questions, get responses, I can dig deep.
“One experience is full, the other is half full."
One of my favourite things about Rhubarb is the way half your audience always end up on the stage. Tell me why it’s important to you to destroy the dividing line between yourself and your fans.
“Sometimes Pete and I do a story with just the two of us and we can be slick and polished, we know what's going to happen in any given moment and we know it will make us look professional... But... it's SO much more fun to bring kids and adults up with us. You never know what’s going to happen, it's unpredictable and fun. I really have to be on my toes and be ready to go with anything that is thrown my way.
“But for me, I go straight to my happy place if kids are having fun, if they feel valued by us and by the audience, if they achieve something that maybe they didn't think they could have. I'm thinking particularly of, say, a shy child that has volunteered and then realises the enormity of performing on stage. If I can make that experience safe and happy, then I'm doing my job. Or, I love when I have chosen someone and they shine, only to be told afterwards that that child is usually in trouble and the people are amazed to see how brilliant that child has been. Good experiences foster self-esteem and self-esteem fosters resilience.”
You do a fine trade in fairy tales. Why do fairy tales never grow old?
“Because they always have a message, because they link back through our generations. There is something about tradition and old knowledge that wraps around us like a cosy blanket on a winter's night.”
Rhubarb seem to live a dream life of story and song. What advice would you give to anyone with an unconventional dream that won’t quit dogging them?
“Yes, it is a dream life. We live in an age when most things are possible. Life is definitely a journey and if anyone had said that I would end up travelling around the world telling stories, my shy younger self would have laughed… Well, maybe not laughed - I wouldn’t have had the confidence! However, when I did start to get a bit of confidence and walked through doors that education and experience opened, I started to challenge myself. Someone asked me to be in a play... I thought I would die with nerves, but I did it... and loved it... More challenges until the big one for me, the opening into this world… when a librarian asked me to 'tell' a story in the library. It was in 1994. The librarian presented the door to me and I tiptoed through and found this wonderful life I didn't even know I was looking for!”
We are so glad you did, Mary.
She's dangerous and daring - she's Nancy Fancy-Pants
It’s that wonderful time of the year again; and no, I’m not talking about Christmas shopping time. I’m talking about that time when Porirua Library goes a little bit crazy (in a good way) with excitement in anticipation of A-Long Hot Summer Story Festival. From opening time on December 17 at any branch of Porirua Library, Porirua resident (and household subscriber) children aged 3-13 will be able to register for our fifth annual ALHSSF (that’s the handy acronym for a festival so massive it needs 10 syllables to express itself).
Unprecedented demand last year, saw a queue form from the children’s desk to the front desk from 10AM on the first day of the festival, and registrations had booked out by 5PM, before our opening party even started! This year, we have made some changes to ensure this doesn’t happen, which opens the festival up to unlimited registrations. So, if you can’t get in on December 17, don’t fret; this year’s catch phrase is ‘no one will miss out’. That said, the opening act – Otane superstars Rhubarb (aka Mary Kippenberger and Peter Charlton-Jones) – is one you won’t want to miss. So, we do hope you’ll join us that day at 5.30PM in the main library to show them how Porirua likes to party. Registrations will be open before and after the show, and there will be plenty of spot prizes for audience participation courtesy of Gecko Press.
Those registering will receive a fabulous A-Long Hot Summer Reading Challenge, which includes a sign-in page (six visits over six weeks earns you a book prize!), plenty of activities (complete 10 to win a book prize!!, complete 20 to win two book prizes!!!) and the full six-week programme of events. As ever, all Porirua Library children’s events are free of charge. The programme is jam-packed with so many fabulous free events that I can’t bear to single any one out, and am unable to resist talking them all up enthusiastically. Performers include author/artist/storyteller extraordinaire Stu Duval, author Gillian Candler, and author/illustrator Ned Barraud, and local storytellers Ralph Roister-Doister and Nancy Fancy-Pants (with Delightful Tales of Danger and Daring), and Judith Jones (who comes courtesy of Porirua City Council’s Zero Waste team, to teach us how to save the planet!). A highlight for anyone who has ever wanted the chance to dance with a librarian (and who hasn't?) will be the Glow Disco - let us know at the children’s desk what songs you think should make the playlist for this high energy, glow-in-the-dark event.
Buddy Readers return at 11AM every Tuesday throughout the festival. These generous older kids are here to help younger ones keep their reading levels up over summer. Children need only read six books over summer to maintain their end-of-term reading levels (and delight their teachers) on return to school in the new year. Buddies are here to listen to them work towards this worthy endeavour. If you are year 8 (at school) or older (there is no upper age limit), and compelled to spend a small portion of your holidays engaged in a worthy endeavour, contact me to be deputised as a buddy (and earn a book prize too!).
Greet Pauwelijn from Book Island will be joining me for the Friend-Along, revisiting the warm interactive format she has brought to previous ALHSSFs with the Grand-Along (2014) and Friend-Along (2015). I am looking forward to exploring what makes a good friend with Greet and pairs of besties – and there’s a great competition attached to this event too.
Speaking of competitions, there are more than ever this year, thanks to much-appreciated sponsorship from Book Island, Penguin Random House, South Pacific Books, Dash Swim School (who are giving away a ‘Snapping Shark’ bumper boat birthday party valued at $350!), Zealandia Wildlife Sanctuary, and Whittaker’s. Gecko Press remain the Festival's most generous sponsor, providing many of the hundreds (yes, hundreds!) of curiously good book prizes we are itching to award to repeat visitors and competition winners. Between sign-ins, competitions, and book challenge rewards, we expect to give away a record number of books this year.
For full programme details, visit the What’s On page. We are not ticketing events this year, and there is no geographical restriction on eligibility to attend. (Please note that some of the more intimate workshops are RSVP-required.) So, there’s no need to spend a dollar or even leave town – A-Long Hot Summer Story Festival has the school holidays sorted for your reading, listening, and dancing pleasure. See you there!
Rhubarb: Mary Kippenberger and Peter Charlton-Jones
Gillian Candler is the author of the highly accessible ‘Explore and Discover’ non-fiction series for children - including Under the Ocean: explore and discover New Zealand’s sea life; In the Garden: explore and discover the New Zealand backyard; and At the Beach: explore and discover the New Zealand seashore - all of which are illustrated by Ned Barraud. Both Ned and Gillian have workshops booked at Porirua Library’s A-Long Hot Summer Story Festival in January 2016. Continuing with her explorations of the natural world, Gillian is about to release her latest book, Whose Beak is This?, illustrated by Fraser Williamson. I talked to Gillian about what inspires her to look closer at her natural environment.
Can you remember an early moment of wonder in your life that marked you as a nature lover?
"There was a nature table at the first school I went to. It was a wonderful collection of autumn leaves, empty birds' nests, feathers, seeds, unusual stones etc. I would look at all these collected items with awe, they were so beautiful and I was very curious about where they came from."
What is your favourite wild place?
"My favourite wild place is Rakiura/Stewart Island, but unfortunately I can't go there very often. My favourite wild place in Wellington is the Pukerua Bay Coast. There are always interesting things to find on the beach, when the sun shines it's beautiful and when it's wet and windy it's awesome."
Tell us about some of the conservation projects you are involved with.
"I check predator traps in Pukerua Bay, I know that reducing the number of rats, hedgehogs and weasels is good for the local wildlife, but it’s not much fun cleaning dead animals out of traps. The most interesting project I was involved with this year was feeding seabird chicks on Mana Island. 100 fairy prion chicks from Stephen's Island were put into man-made burrows on Mana Island. We fed them sardine smoothies through feeding tubes every day until they were big enough to fly away. The scientists running the project expect some of these birds to come back to Mana when they are old enough to have their own chicks."
What one environmental issue do you think it is most important to shine a light on?
"The issue that we can all work on is using the world's resources wisely. Reducing the amount of rubbish we produce, using less plastic, reusing things we already have, recycling, trying not to waste electricity, simple things like that. At the same time we need to think about where our waste ends up; it’s really sad to see lots of rubbish end up in the harbour and on beaches where it does harm to wildlife."
"I've enjoyed exploring Sandra Morris's A New Zealand Nature Journal and I'm looking forward to reading the new book for children about Sir Edmund Hillary, First to the Top, by David Hill. He's such a good writer and I am a big fan of Sir Edmund. I've also just read the beautiful book Extinct Birds of New Zealand, by Alan Tennyson and Paul Martinson, and another fascinating book that I found in the SMART Library catalouge about drawing extinct animals called The Artist and the Scientist: bringing pre-history to life, by Patricia Vickers-Rich, Thomas H Rich and Peter Trusler."
Ned Barraud does wonders translating your informational texts visually. How did the two of you meet?
Meet Gillian at the launch of Whose Beak is This?, at Paper Plus in North City on Saturday, October 31, at 2pm, and have fun making a bird mask. Stay tuned for further details of the fifth annual A-Long Hot Summer Story Festival, coming these December/January school holidays.
Duck, Death and the Tulip, by Wolf Erlbruch
Tonight, Gecko Press publisher Julia Marshall will join award-winning authors Jack Lasenby and Bernard Beckett, in conversation with me at Porirua Library, in celebration of our freedom to read. Gecko Press books, while ‘curiously good’, can also exhibit a risky nature that makes them as susceptible to challenges as any book that extends the boundaries of story beyond the safe and predictable. Here, Julia shares some extended thoughts on the topic.
What does the freedom to read mean to you personally?“It means having the ability to read, and to be able to read what I want to read: and for others to have the same choice. Children are often limited by the opinions of adults.”
Can you think of a time when your own freedom to read has been brought into question?
“I had the opposite experience as a child: a visitor to our house asked me what I was reading, and I told him I had stopped reading my book because I didn't like it, because things weren't working out very well. He told me it was important to read past pain, rather than avoid it. I don't know now who the man was, but it was a pivotal moment in my reading.”
Have you ever been called to use the freedom to read argument in defence of a Gecko Press book?
“Sometimes people do feel the subject matter or humour in some of our books does border on inappropriateness: some parents don't like Stupid Baby for example, which I think is a very funny book, or When We Were Alone In the World, where the child decides the reason his father is late to pick him up from day-care must be that his parents have been run over by a truck. Duck, Death and the Tulip, one of the books I am most proud to have published, generated some emotive response - the comments ranged from, 'Does anyone else hate this book?,' to stories of children taking the book into the playground and home to their parents to talk about it.
“Every child is different, but I think our Anglo Saxon tradition can be overprotective, certainly compared to other cultures. Andy Griffiths said it just fine: ‘Books are one of the last wild places for children.’”
The Late Night Freedom to Read Panel Talk happens tonight, October 8, at 5.30PM, at Porirua Library. The panel discussion will be followed by nibbles, a chance to mingle, and a banned and challenged books slideshow. RSVP to email@example.com . For more information on banned and challenged books, and fabulous books in general, follow Porirua Library on our new Pinterest page.
Beckett and Sons
Award-winning author and upcoming Porirua Library guest Bernard Beckett had banned books on his mind the day he answered my questions on the freedom to read. The interim ban slapped on Ted Dawe’s equally maligned and applauded book Into the River (2012) had been announced that morning, lending particularly local pertinence to our annually celebrated poke at the dangers of literary censorship. Bernard was one of the panel of New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards judges who awarded Into the River not only the top prize in the Young Adult Fiction category, but also the prestigious Margaret Mahy Book of the Year prize in 2013. The furore began before the awards were even handed out, and has not stopped since.
What does the freedom to read mean to you personally, as both a reader and a writer?
"The freedom to read means living in a high trust society. I think that for the most part, we rise up to the expectations others have for us. When we are trusted to cope with material that is challenging, complex or even disturbing, then that gives us the opportunity to do exactly that. While it is undoubtedly true that some information can be dangerous, it always seems to me that ignorance is more dangerous."
Can you think of a time when your own freedom or to write read has been brought into question?
"Mostly, I’ve had no trouble reading and writing the things I’ve wanted to. This is because we’re fortunate enough to live in a society that instinctively values such freedoms."
Why do you think it is important for people to consider the freedom to read?
"The freedom to read is a crucial part of the checks and balances within a society. If people wish to control others, the most effective way of doing that is by controlling the information flow. A point that is not often enough discussed is the relative cheapness of producing the written word. Because other forms of communication, for example film or television, are extremely expensive to produce, the message is itself very often compromised by commercial imperatives. Because the lone figure hunched over their keyboard faces no such constraint, the written word is very often the conduit for new and challenging information."
What are your feelings on the recent classifying, declassifying, and subsequent interim banning, of Into the River?
"The thing that most perplexes me is the undue focus on the sex and swearing. This is an important and provocative novel, looking at the way we alienate and exclude, and how this becomes a vicious mechanism for the recycling of inequalities. It is a book about the nation we have become, and the struggles ahead in forging a truly inclusive society. In short, it is a deeply moral book, and yet those who oppose it do so in there name of morality. I find that tremendously sad."
If you could convene the ultimate freedom to read panel talk featuring guests from any time or place, real or fictional, who would you include?
"David Hume [Scottish philosopher, 1711-1776], because I’d have him on any panel. He’s something of a hero of mine. Jesus, if only to see the looks on the conservatives’ faces when they realised what a radical they’d been worshipping. And Courtney Barnett, to sing us songs at the end of the evening."
Bernard Beckett joins fellow author Jack Lasenby and Gecko Press publisher Julia Marshall on a panel I look forward to chairing on October 8, 5.30PM, at Porirua Library. This event is intended for freedom fighters and young adult readers of high school age and older, and RSVPs can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org . Bernard’s blog is a great place to visit to follow a conversation spanning two years in the life of (currently) banned (yes! in New Zealand) book Into the River. Bernard’s newest novel, the riveting Lullaby, is available to reserve now, and I highly recommend you do so.
My previous blog post made it all the way to the realms of those whose work inspired it, Rose Lagercrantz and Eva Eriksson, thanks to their New Zealand publisher, Julia Marshall of Gecko Press. Great news was sent back, that there are two more books on the way. (I’d like to take the credit, but the reply came back rather too quickly for the books to have been written expressly to my order.) Book four in the series is called Life According to Dani. The fifth title remains unknown at this early heads-up. Whatever they call it, I will be first on the reserve list for it.
As I was for another recent addition to our collection, with illustrations by Eva, and a story by another of my favourite Swedish authors, the incomparable Ulf Stark. When Dad Showed Me the Universe is another gorgeous new Gecko Press title. On an otherwise quite ordinary night, Dad takes off his blood-spattered dentist coat and decides to show his son something awesome - no less than the universe. They wrap up warm, stock up on provisions (one packet of gum), and head into the evening. It’s a long walk to the universe, but eventually they get there.
After standing in the droppings of Big Dog (which our narrator finds hilarious), Dad seems quite nonplussed in comparison to his son with regards to the wonder of the world around them. I love the juxtapositions of Dad’s eventually disgruntled late night face, and his son’s delighted one, dipping sandwiches in his hot chocolate while Dad cleans his soiled boot, reunited under the benevolent eye of Mum. So many ways to observe satisfaction. Such a lovely book to remind us, we need only step outside of the everyday to be reminded how marvellous it is.
When it comes to book pushing, I am the girl who cried wolf. No longer can I open my mouth to utter the surely helpful words, “That’s my favourite book,” than someone will remind me how many times a week/day/hour(!) I find the opportunity to say that. It’s a side effect of being surrounded by outstanding stock – your gold medals outshine each other, you are constantly searching for goldier ways to discern one level of awesomeness from another. You want to turn the arbitrarily imposed quality pyramid on its head, leaving just a triangular teaspoon of space for rubbish books at the bottom, and the ascended base to be like a happily groaning shelf.
That said, there are certain books I recommend more than others, the books that land medals on my heart, my ‘go-to’s when people don’t know where to go next. The latest one I am pressing upon anyone I can is the third (and I have heard, but refuse to believe, last) in a series I adore. Swedish author/illustrator team Rose Lagercrantz and Eva Eriksson have created two halves of the same joy in Dani and her best friend Ella. My Happy Life, My Heart is Laughing, and When I Am Happiest (Gecko Press) are the bittersweet days of their lives.
Dani lives with her father (the mother in their family has died so long ago she can’t remember her very much). Dani puts herself to sleep at night counting all the times she has been happiest, and her cheery demeanour will make your heart soar. Her optimism, however, is juxtaposed with sadness and even the kind of fear that just seems to find you. Real-life topics worked through the narrative include bereavement, separation – when Ella shifts house – bullying, and an awful shock involving Dad, his bicycle and the hospital. Dani is supported throughout by family, teachers, Ella, and other friends. I can’t bear to think I will never find out what happens to Dad, or to Dani and Ella – although I feel for certain the girls, at least, will be resilient as long as they have each other… and a few hamsters.
But it’s not only their warm hearts that mark these novels as truly special. At less than 150 pages each, liberally and engagingly illustrated (black-and-white with truly framable colour covers), with large font and mostly small amounts of text per page, these are early chapter books of the finest quality in terms of both content and design. Although an adult can happily consume the entire trilogy in under an hour – a theory I am tempted to retest every time I see the three of them together – this would also be a fine feat for a new reader to aim for. It also makes them short enough to read aloud in one sitting, and with these books, one short chapter is not enough.
I like to think of the literacy engine being coupled with a very human caboose. I would be happiest if a string of books just as perfect as these bridged a very long distance to join head and heart in the early reading endeavour. My heart is laughing just thinking about it.
Gina Miller: rocking Cannons Creek Library since 2011
Deep in the heart of Cannons Creek rocks a prime contender for the title of coolest little library in the country. I donned a raincoat to head into Cannons Creek Library last school holidays, and recall the reliable sensation of having crossed over into a better world upon entering. The space is bright, welcoming, engagingly decorated, well-stocked, and warm all year. The woman behind the warmth is Cannons Creek Branch Librarian Gina Miller, who in four years has earned a reputation for knowing the name of every kid that crosses the library’s threshold. Gina took some time out from designing the Chill Out and Read Holiday Reading Challenge we will be handing out to all-comers over the July school holidays to give me some hows and whys regarding her awesomeness.
What do you like best about doing the work you do in the community you do it in?
I like the variety of people that me and my awesome colleagues Dony and Olivia get to meet and help. I like the relationships that we have been able to build through our work at Cannons Creek Library. I like it when a class group from one of the local schools get one of my jokes and enjoys the stories I read them. I like the look of joy and pride on a child's face when they get to use their library card for the first time. I like that I get the chance to express myself creatively to make the library a cosy and inviting retreat. (OK, it's probably more of a circus than a retreat on a busy afternoon after school!) I like being able to give children opportunities to make things, to use scissors, glue, glitter and googly eyes, experiences which we can often take for granted.
What is your recipe for creating readers?
1 cup of inspiration
1 cup of interesting-looking books (I know you're not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but I know I often do!)
Put into a no pressure situation, in a fun, text-saturated environment with comfy seats.
Give time to browse, skim and read.
Give lots of options to 'taste' a variety of books, and if the flavour isn't quite right, give chances to try something else.
What is the most important thing to keep in mind when preparing programming for children?
To make it fun and hopefully a little bit crazy! It's important to think about the children in your audience and what stage they are at developmentally, and to think about what will connect with them. I think sometimes it is important to not overthink it, just go with what you think and know.
What is foremost in your mind when you are presenting a programme to a young audience?
Foremost in my mind during a story session is, ‘Am I connecting here, is this a meaningful and fun experience?’ Also, the teacher side of me is thinking, ‘How could I improve this?’
What are your favourite read-alouds?
Press Here, by Herve Tullet; any of the Elephant and Piggie books, by Mo Willems; Round Trip, by Ann Jonas (I love optical illusions!).
To which authors are you most grateful?
Jay Williams, who wrote The Practical Princess and other Liberating Fairy Tales (my favourite book growing up, which I got from the Lucky Book Club in Standard Two); and Joy Cowley, who gave me the opportunity to launch her new book The Speed of Light last year, which was a great privilege and a big confidence boost for me.
Joy herself was equally excited to meet Gina, whom she had previously known as ‘that lovely librarian in Cannons Creek’ who forwards so much fan mail her way. Children working through the Cannons Creek Library Avengers library education programme are encouraged to write to a favourite author, and Joy regularly tops the pick list.
For a taste of Gina Miller’s fabulous reading recipes, head to Cannons Creek Library these holidays, check out her story times on July 7, 9, 14 and 16 (1.30PM), pick up a Chill Out and Read holiday programme and Holiday Reading Challenge, or enquire about joining the Cannons Creek Library Avengers.
Amazing Babe Kathleen Hanna
When he’s feeling funny, our library manager likes to wind me up by calling me an “ex-rock chick”. As a woman of a certain age who can count Everett True’s definitive Nirvana: the True Story among her currently issued items, it’s only the “ex-” part of the phrase I object to. The thing is, I find rock and roll writing (guilty) and children’s librarianship have a great deal in common. After all, both deal with words and images, and with sensitive, potentially rowdy human beings who respond well to music, often spill their drinks, and sometimes have trouble standing up. But I admit they are generally far enough removed from each other for me to get a particular thrill when their fields cross, as is allowed in two utterly fabulous books new to the children’s section.
Amazing Babes – written by Eliza Sarlos and illustrated by Grace Lee (Scribe Publications, 2013) - was written (with love) as a gift from the author to her son, Arthur. It includes tributes, in text and iconic drawngs, to female pioneers such as American feminist, journalist, and social and political activist Gloria Steinem, revered Mexican painter and style icon Frida Kahlo, Burma’s pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and education advocate and Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai. It also counts Kathleen Hanna (pictured above), riot grrrl activist, fanzine writer, and lead singer of 1990s seminal punk-rock act Bikini Kill. She was the one who inadvertently named Nirvana’s biggest hit when she graffitied ‘Kurt Smells Like Teen Spirit’ on singer Kurt Cobain’s wall.
Rad American Women A-Z – written by Kate Schatz and illustrated by Miriam Klein Stahl (City Lights Books, 2015) - is the coolest educational alphabet book ever made. It features a roll call of women Lemony Snicket calls ‘a guest list for a party of my heroes’, paid tribute in text and strong-hued paper-cut illustrations. My favourite letter is X, ‘for the women whose names we don’t know… for the women who aren’t in the history books, or the Halls of Fame, or on postage stamps and coins… the women who made huge changes and the women who made dinner.' The letter P has been taken by legendary singer, poet, artist, writer Patti Smith, who just happened to cover Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ on her album Twelve in 2007. This book includes a great list of further reading resources and websites, along with an alphabetical list of '26 Things That You Can Do to Be Rad!' - from ‘act as an ally in support of all people’ to ‘zero tolerance for discrimination’.
On the topic of amazing babes and rad women, I also recommend a handsome new addition to the Young Adults collection – the highly lauded Yoko Ono: Collector of Skies - by Nell Beram and Carolyn Boriss-Krimsky (Amulet Books, 2013). This book reveals the spirt and soul of a groundbreaking, often misunderstood visual, musical and literary artist, and tireless peace activist. Her moving story has the potential to inspire any young adult who has ever felt like an outsider to follow their dreams and wake up to the potential to make art inherent in all that surrounds them. In fact, at the age of 82, she’s still leaving a trail of examples of how to be a radical amazing babe at every age. Because you’re never too old, or too young, to smell like Teen Spirit. Spray some on a kid you care about today by reserving one of the above books for them.
Rad American Woman Patti Smith
It's not Banned Books week yet, but as challenges to library materials trickle in (and require responses) all year, I thought I'd kill the (proverbial) two birds with one stone by sharing a current complaint and the sort of response I am often compelled to offer.
The book in question - which I will not identify to prevent plot spoilers – concerns, among other things, the rape of a 16-year-old girl (from her own perspective). The strong suggestion sent my way (quite informally) was that the book should be restricted to those 16 and older.
Here is why it won't be.
To speak of rape does not condone it. To muzzle victims, or authors whose characters are victims, against speaking of it is discriminatory, in that it renders their experiences or expressions invisible. This contributes to a culture of victim shaming, and attempts to erase a problem that affects an estimated one in four females and one in eight males in their lifetimes, many before the age of 16 (according to Women's Refuge), in this country alone.
Who would not wish to alleviate their pain?
A problem reflected back from the pages of a book goes a very long way towards making a victim feel less alone, and less like there must be something wrong with them - and only them - that has caused whatever the problem that's troubling them is to have occurred.
If you don’t want to consider rape survivors, you don’t have to (I won't tell you what to read any more than I will tell anyone else what not to). The problem with that is that: a) the survivors didn’t want this particular status either; and b) they (but for whatever grace you subscribe to) could easily have been you or your own child/sister/mother/brother/friend. Still, there is such a thing as empathy, and it can be developed by reading stories of those less fortunate than ourselves. We practise it with regard to all sorts of other statuses we wouldn’t wish upon people – those living with disabilities, victims of war, the terminally ill – why are some statuses more socially acceptable than others?
Empathy aside, there are the issues of intellectual freedom and legal requirements. Challenges to the freedom to read (write/publish) whatever one will are something librarians look to both their professional body, the Library and Information Association of New Zealand Aotearoa (LIANZA), and the country’s appointed censors (the Office of Film and Literature Classification) to govern.
The LIANZA Statement of Intellectual Freedom tells us ‘librarians should resist all attempts at censorship, except where that censorship is required by law’. While some throw their hands in the air and cry ‘no fair’ over the suggestion that governing the materials their own children read is their own responsibility – I would ask them to consider how a librarian is supposed to consider what is and is not acceptable between one home and another when every single home is different.
That said, there will be cases where people fear real offence, or even harm, may be caused. This is where your right to appeal to the Office of Film and Literature Classification comes in.
To give some context to the incredibly wide variety of perceived harms we (and they) are presented with, let me tell you about the days when we had budgies in the library. They were a popular draw card, and the sound of children banging on the sound of their cage still rings in the ears of many a children’s desk staffer, mixed with the complaints of the occasional animal rights activist, and those who thought it would be a crime against childhood for us not to have them.
One day we met a child who could “not” enter the children’s area due to a restrictive bird phobia. Nor could they read any book that had not been pre-checked for birdy content. The children’s library was clearly a traumatic zone for this kid (and I can only imagine how bad his life was outside the library), but we could hardly expunge the library of all things ornithological to stop him crying.
We cannot take the sharp bits (or beaks) off the world. Nor should libraries be expected to. The best thing we can equip our children with is the metaphorical big boots that will protect them from that which runs counter to that which they know or believe to be right. Strengthen the child, strengthen the bond between parent and child, and spare a thought for those living lives different than your own. Diversity is the very stuff of an enlightened community; let’s be grateful for all the wonderful opportunities this affords us rather than letting them divide us.
"...there is no higher life form than a librarian"- Terry Pratchett.
Illustration by Paul Kidby - from The Science of Discworld.
The Library woke this morning to the sad news that Terry Pratchett had finally - and not figuratively - met Death. We were sad. That's the way you tend to feel when the books of a certain pen run out. The stories already captured have the potential to remain so, and remain in the realm of the frequently loaned, borrowed, and shared. Still, the thought of no more to come casts a shadow on the space they could have sat on the library shelf, if only in your mind. Terry Pratchett was a friend to libraries, because he made people hungry for books, and wrote more than 70 of them.
And so, to muse on the topic of friends - friends in libraries, to be specific.
The National Library's Services to Schools has been a good friend to school libraries for many years, providing both on-line databases and library loan material to schools. When it announced, last month, its fast pending 'transformation' of the services 'in response to library and education directions', the outcry was swift and strong from many quarters. In particular, the removal of the right for schools to request specific materials, and the way this will affect a school's access to non-fiction topic support, was a real concern for many school librarians and teachers. Services to Schools are implementing an increased emphasis on what they are calling the priority areas of reading engagement, digital literacy, and modern library learning environments.
The fear of greater reliance on digital tools coming at the expense of full access to print resources is never far from the mind of anyone who lives - as I do - for the real thrill of putting actual books in the hands of readers, for the turning of physical pages, and the magnificent vistas within the pages of lovely big story books.
Aesthetics aside - and remembering that a book or a tablet is really just a type of container for a story, and the story is always the really important thing - there is a very real digital divide in this country. Statistical research suggests that the expansion of information communication technologies is mainly utilised by households with higher incomes, and households whose members have formal educational qualifications. Consider the implications of this in our city.
I believe Porirua Library can be a real friend to the teachers, librarians, and – ultimately – children affected by these changes. Those teachers and school librarians who have already made Porirua Children’s Library their friend can vouch for this. If you are a teacher or school librarian who has not yet learned how our collection can support your recreational reading – both fiction and non-fiction – make yourself known to us. Do that in advance of that dread tomorrow many a flustered teacher we’ve never met before sometimes imposes upon us (we know you have your term planning all tied up; we can do a lot for you if you incorporate our services into your planning). Let’s talk about and show you a place where your selections will only be restricted by the need to share what’s on our catalogue with your colleagues around the city, and the children we serve within it.
Tools we can fight your fears that the Services to Schools changes will destroy literacy in your school with include: teacher cards with reduced charging structures and extended loan periods; qualified staff who revel in personal service (hey, if you haven’t met us yet, you have no idea how hard we can revel!); an applauded collection furnished by a healthy budget; no limits on the amount of material you can borrow (that's right, no limits).
Why do we do it? Because one of our principle measures of success is how many of our books are on your shelves.
The only way to slay the beast is with lots more books. We’ve got them. Which ones do you want?
Tianyi Mathur and Samuel Strachan at Barbara Else workshop
A-Long Hot Summer Story Festival 2014-15 has been and gone off, and someone asked me yesterday if that means Super Sally and I are at a loose end now. While it is true, the main body of the visible work has lifted off us - perhaps rendering us a little more light-headed than usual, if you can imagine - the fact is, A-Long Hot Summer Story Festival is an ongoing project for us. It certainly peaks in December and January, during the period of the Festival's execution - although the month leading up to that can be quite exciting behind the scenes - but we are currently working on evaluating the programme, and still have many reward bags to hand over at the Children's desk. If your child signed in six times over the holidays, and posted their blue card to us, and they haven't picked their reward up yet, bring them in soon so we can congratulate them.
Feedback from your side of the counter has been unanimously fantastic. I've received some lovely emails about how engaged the kids were at the workshops by authors Juliette MacIver and Barbara Else, myself and Greet Pauwelijn of Book Island, and maestro of trash Levity Beet. Many Extraordinary Parents joined us to help make the Levity Beet Musical Instrument Play-Along the tremendous learning opportunity it was. Levity commented that those present felt like a community of friends, and later wrote to praise the way Porirua Library has fostered 'the development of a vibrant, creative and and curious community which is totally what we are needing more of in this country and globally.' In turn, many people cited Levity's Rock-Along as a highlight of the Festival.
Common themes that have emerged in people's comments about the Festival are those of being given a reason to read, a purpose for regular library visits, and a feeling one was a part of a whole made greater by many individuals coming together.
It gives me great pleasure to acknowledge the collective participation of the students from Paremata School, Adventure School, and Discovery School, who had the highest graduations and attendance rates. These kids are being guided through their reading lives by committed parents who encourage independent thinking skills, and are keen to engage in active learning opportunities with their children, with great results.
A lot of the written work generated by the kids over the past two months will be appearing in the Junior Journal throughout the rest of the year.
If you do have any feedback about the Festival we haven't heard, now would be a very valuable time to offer it - you can email me at email@example.com. The future of the programme relies upon the demand for and uptake by those it is built to serve. And we will continue to build it, as long as you think we should. Thanks a lot for giving us so many reasons - like the smiles on the faces below.
Cameron Culver-Dickens and Amanda Dickens
Trapping and training ideas at Barabara Else's last workshop
Last time Barbara Else visited Porirua Library, she brought her wonderful How to Trap and Train Ideas workshop, and the picture above illustrates just how effective that method was. When she visits A-Long Hot Summer Story Festival this week, she will bring Surprises Along the Way, a new workshop born of the experience of being three books into the Tales of Fontania series. The fourth and final tale is due out in November 2015. I still remember the first borrower who asked me to tell Barbara, after reading book one (The Travelling Restaurant), that she absolutely must continue the adventure. Initially, Barbara hadn't realised she would.
"I didn’t set out to write a series," she explains. "But as I was working on each book I could see challenges that intrigued me for a following one. When I was writing the first, I had to draw a map so I could check how far the characters could have sailed and which directions they would be taking. Then I saw how much of the world of Fontania there was for me to keep exploring – mountains, forests..."
She went about the literal mapping of the world the way she goes about all of her writing work.
"I love my routine. The key to finishing a novel is just to keep plugging away at writing every morning. It doesn’t matter much if I write good stuff or rubbish. Of course I keep the good stuff. I’ve also learned how to transform at least some of the rubbish into something useful."
Being a manuscript advisor and literary agent as well as an author puts Barbara in a great position to talk to us about the standard of the works that filter through the service she runs with her husband Chris, and the opportunities for budding writers looking to be published.
"Publishers are very cautious about what they take on at the moment and it is hard for a new writer to have work accepted. Many publishers won’t look at work unless it is recommended by a literary agent or someone else in the industry. Even some previously successful authors find it difficult these days to get their work taken by a commercial publishing house. That means many authors are turning to self-publishing. That, in its turn means that they have to be very careful indeed to have their writing at its absolute best so their books stand out from the many thousands available. Many people write stories that are promising but still need a lot of development.
"Writers need to be prepared to rewrite and make their stories brilliant. Rewriting means digging very deep into yourself and into your story. Taking a writing course can be useful. So can showing your story to a friend who can give you tough comment – but it has to be tough if it is going to be truly helpful. Or you can get professional feedback from a manuscript assessor who knows about writing and publishing. But I must also say, the ideas I’ve seen from new young writers these days just blow my socks off!"
Barbara is all set to meet a slew of new writers - young and older - at her booked out workshop in A-Long Hot Summer Story Festival tomorrow. As for her own recipe for A-Long Hot Summer...
"The very best for me is to spend time near a beach with my family, from oldest to youngest. Next best is to have time to enjoy my own garden and let my mind soak up how pretty it is. For me, reading is an essential part of the perfect summer. Soft cushions in an outdoor lounger, a cup of tea, a stack of books – bliss."
You can win the currently published entire series (three books to date) of the Tales of Fontania by writing your own adventure story of 500-1,000 words, and submitting it no later that January 30 to firstname.lastname@example.org , with Gecko Press Adventure as the subject line. The deadline for entries is January 30.
A-Long Hot Summer Story Festival friend and sponsor Debby Guddee brought the love to a lucky audience at Cannons Creek Library today, with a very special Hug-Along story time, featuring My Favorite Hugs, which she co-wrote with her daughter Melissa Rodrigues. Debby is also the author of the self-help book, Discover the Magic of EFT for Bullying, which aims to hep children release the emotional effects of bullying using a technique called 'EFT tapping'. She talked to me about how she has acheived her published output to date.
Can you tell us a little bit the journey towards getting your first book picture book - My Favorite Hugs - published?
"These are hugs that Melissa used to have as a child herself, and when she became a mother we started doing them again, and one of us (we can’t remember who) said out loud that it would make a good book. Most of the hugs in the book we thought we had made up ourselves; we had to create two or three to make the book complete, being 12 hugs.
"We penned the verses first making sure that we no reference to mother, father, brother, sister, male, female, and kept it totally gender neutral whilst rhyming. This was a challenge at times as the aim was to also describe the action in the hug in rhyming verse.
"We then searched for an illustrator and had five people submit to us where all we knew about them was their email address and a few illustrations they had done. We asked each person to submit to us their version of the Sandwich Hug and narrowed this down to two completely different styles. We put these out to friends and family to comment and made our decision on Su Mon only to discover that she lives in Tawa!
"We approached Balboa Press (the self-publishing side of Hay House) to publish our book, and as it was seen as being in the self-help industry they accepted it. We submitted all the information to them and a few months later we received our book. We are happy with the final product."
What is your favourite hug?
"We love the Sandwich Hug as this was one that Melissa had the most and is a very secure type of hug. We also love the heart hug as that’s where love is found."
How did you come to write Discover the Magic of EFT for Bullying?
"I myself was bullied from a very young age which followed me into the workplace and in relationships. During this time there was no resource available to help me feel better. I could learn to walk away, but it never changed how I felt. When I discovered EFT (tapping) I used this for bullying and almost instantly felt better, the words people had said to me didn’t affect me at all anymore, and it helped me remove that from my life completely."
"I have since gone on to be an EFT Master Trainer and teach people how to use this powerful tool for themselves. The book is aimed at seven–12 year olds as I feel this is a crucial time for bullying to happen, and if children can learn how to change their emotional response at this age, adulthood will be much easier for them."
What is your best advice to the bullied child, and to the people trying to help them?
"Use the content in my book. It’s easy to do and follow along with. It may look and sound a bit strange, but it works. I would also recommend using any other resources that are available to them, and empower themselves to take control of the situation. Schools and other establishments can only do so much, don’t rely on them to solve the whole problem, become empowered yourself and it will stop."
What are your future writing plans?
"We have a few books in the pipeline, a follow up to My Favorite Hugs called My Favorite Smiles. I also have more in the series of Discover the Magic of EFT and will be covering anxiety and anger and bringing a brand new, fun way to introduce EFT to children, all will be revealed soon!"
How will you spend A-Long Hot Summer when you’re not in our story chair?
"One of my favourite past times is spending time with my three year-old grandson. I get to be a child again and act like a three-year old myself. He’s a great source of inspiration for our book writing."
Debby brings the Hug-Along to the Main Library on January 27 at 10.30AM. Come along and feel the love.
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