November 7

How to write – Richard Harland

richardAt a Creative Writers’ camp recently, Richard Harland worked with students to demonstrate ways in which they might create and build a story. He drew on examples from some of his most popular stories, Worldshaker and Song of the Slums to inspire students to investigate the feelings and emotions of the characters, and how they might develop these ideas in their own writing.

One of the things he emphasised was that writing requires you to draw on your own experiences. However, he assured us that even if you haven’t actually experienced the particulars of an event, it is possible to transfer emotions from a similar event to develop an idea. So we then had a few “have you ever…?” moments to inspire ideas and discussion.

Early on, Richard spoke of his own writer’s block – his first fully published success was at the age of 45 even though he has written all his life! Discovery of your own writing style and talents is thus important, he stated. He encouraged students to seek comment from others – both positive and negative – so that they might work out what they write best.

Another idea he demonstrated in the workshop was that writers are all unique, drawing from different experiences and lifestyles to create their stories. As we shared our ideas, this was clearly  obvious, with many different scenarios developed around the group. “Ransack your memories…

The finale was when Richard demonstrated his SteamPunk guitar, which he encouraged a friend to create from his own imagination.

guitar

“Put yourself in the character’s shoes, and imagine how s/he would be feeling.”

In weeks to come, there should be some reviews or comments from those on the camp who purchased his book, Song of the Slums, so check back soon.

October 17

Banned Books

While on a recent holiday in the US, I visited a library with some interesting displays.

Outside Fairhope Public Library were colourful displays, as it was taking part in an arts festival. Shops and businesses were invited to ‘yarn bomb’ the streetscape. (See below).

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Inside, to coincide with Banned Book Week, (September 25 − October 1, 2016), they had an interesting collection of books on display – books which had at one time or another been banned in America.

With this in mind, when I returned from holidays, we set up our own (quick) Banned Book Display in the High School Library. There were some interesting titles which came up in the searches library staff completed – including some books which are now considered ‘classics’ and others with a popular following among young readers.

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Banned Books Display – Fairhope Public Library

These are some of the titles we found to include in our display:

Where the Wild things Are / The Lorax / Grimm’s Fairy Tales / Alice in Wonderland / The Fault in the Stars / To Kill a Mockingbird / Paper Towns / Tin-tin in America / Of Mice and Men / Charlie and the Chocolate Factory / Brave B=New World / Harry Potter / the Curious incident of the dog in the night-time / the Catcher in the Rye / Bridge to Terabithia / Little Brother / Lord of the Flies / the Absolute Diary of a Part-time Indian / the Hunger Games / Siddharta / the Diary of Anne Frank

Some questions to consider:

Can you think why some of these were banned? Who should decide? Does banning just make the book popular? do the bans reflect the times?

 

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August 24

He’s a poet, who knows it! Steven Herrick

herrickWriters watch

and observe

and create. 

Scratchy notes

scribbled on a serviette 

or in a tattered notebook

become a story through their crafting.

 

This week, Steven Herrick shared his observations, transformed into poems, with students at school – in a time of performance art and great merriment. He explained the ways in which his ideas come together, from simple beginnings, daily events and everyday life, while the audience hung on his every word and action. (Thanks for your visit, Steven.)

‘Another Night in Mullet Town’ is also like that. In his typical form of verse novel*, Herrick portrays the life of friends, Manx and Jonah, as they move through days of school, and nights with friends, in a lakeside town facing change. As Manx bemoans:

People like you and me, Jonah,

we drag down the price of everything we touch.

Conflict exists in several predictable but realistic forms – between male student rivals, between rich and poor, and between the locals and new residents aiming to develop the town for ‘bigger and better things’. Friendships and evolving love interests are also handled genuinely and delicately, as are the sometimes strained relationships of Jonah’s parents, and thus, his family situation.

In simple but succinct language, Herrick wastes no words at all – and in his usual finely-honed manner, so this should appeal to many teens. Australian teens, in particular, will enjoy visiting the coastal town he depicts, acknowledge the school situations he describes and may even stop to ponder some of the community and family issues ‘Another Night in Mullet Town’ presents.

And, once you enjoy ‘Another night…’, there are many other award-winning verse novels from Herrick to read – ‘Love Ghosts and Nose Hair’, ‘A Simple Gift’ and more.

For a taste of Herrick’s poetry performance, watch ’10 things your parents will never say’:

*A verse novel is a type of narrative poetry in which a novel-length narrative is told through the medium of poetry rather than prose.

 

August 12

Magic disguises

NewtsEmerald.inddSometimes, authors have an idea for a book which takes a while to complete.

Garth Nix’ book Newt’s Emerald is an example of this – beginning its life (well, the first lines) 23 years before it was published! In a note at the back of the book, Nix talks about the first version of this book “which remains in a bottom drawer and there it will stay.” Thus, Newt’s Emerald represents the re-working of a past tale from Nix’ creative mind.

Within the story there is a mix of fantasy, love story and historical fiction, as Lady Truthful seeks to recapture an enchanted emerald stolen from her ailing father. To do so, she uses her own enchantments (along with those of her aunt), to follow a dangerous journey while disguised as a man.

Woven into the mix is her proposed introduction to society, as a young lady from a well-to-do family, turning eighteen.  Thus, Truthful switches between the roles of a well-bred young lady and a gentleman, known as Chevalier de Vienne (her own French cousin). Will she be detected?

Truthful herself, is a mix of personalities – able to act as a lady, but at the same time able to parry with the male cousins with whom she has grown up. These influences come into play as the story moves into dangerous situations, as Truthful calls upon both her instinct and undeveloped magical powers to recover the Newington Emerald.

Add into this, an evil sorceress, people who are not always who they say there are, and you have situations which can twist and turn as the pages turn.

Newt’s Emerald – ‘a regency romance with a magical twist’. Shortlisted in the CBCA Older Reader’s  category this year.

Will it pull off a magical award? Will it enchant Garth Nix fans? Will the mix of fantasy, romance and historical fiction bewitch young readers?

Perhaps Garth Nix describing his book might invite you into the tale?

June 13

Freedom Ride

freedomSue Lawson’s book, Freedom Ride, has previously been reviewed on this blog, so it is just to offer congratulations for its inclusion on the CBCA shortlist that this post is about. And to offer praise for a well-told historical fiction tale which is sure to make people stop and think.

In Lawson’s book, we are introduced to Robbie – a teenager in a fictional (but representative) country town in NSW. Through Robbie’s eyes, we quietly see the subtle segregation that was ‘accepted’ in Australian history. Naturally, Robbie’s youthful views are his family’s views, but these are slowly adjusted as he critically observes the practices and beliefs of different adults around him. https://crewsreviews.edublogs.org/2015/08/11/history-meets-fiction/

Since this time, Freedom Ride has already received several accolades, being included in the 2016 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards and the Ethel Turner Prize for Young Adult Literature, and of course, the current CBCA shortlist.

Freedom Ride was actually released to coincide with NAIDOC week, an annual celebration of Indigenous achievement. It is another worthy choice which young adults will enjoy, even as it teaches us something (cringeworthy) about our past.

How powerful is it for us to learn history from fiction? Do you enjoy reading historical fiction? 

February 10

Taking a stand – ‘The Beauty is in the Walking’

the-beauty-is-in-the-walkingDoes the title of a book ever keep you wondering all the way through? Does it capture you more, or less, than the book cover?

I admit that I picked this book up based on the reputation of the author. Australian author, James Moloney has over 40  books for children and teenagers in his writing swag, along with a collection of literary awards. But the title had me puzzled.

It is only gradually that the reader is introduced to the narrator, 17-year-old Jacob O’Leary, who seems to be an average teenager – looking for friendship, his own status and love. What makes Jacob unique is his cerebral palsy (CP).

The Beauty is in the Walking shows how this impacts his daily life, his own thinking and his family’s expectations of him. Also, though he has a strong circle of friends, he is sometimes the victim of bullying. And of course, at times, even these friendships can be fickle and changeable when under pressures such as final exams and outside influences.

Set in a fictional country town in Queensland, the story raises issues about outsiders, racism, fitting in and the adolescent search for romance, against the mystery of a series of violent crimes. Jacob shows strength, determination and commitment when he beleives that the police have accused the wromng person for the shocking crime that has impacted the whole community.

At the same time, he begins to question, with the help of his outspoken English teacher (Mr Svenson) and friend, Chloe, the limited opportunities set out for him after he completes Year 12. He struggles with the plan his parents have set for him (to remain in Palmerston in the family business), against the changing perception of his own potential.

Students will identify with the angst felt by Jacob, as he ventures timidly into his first romantic relationship. They will feel his pain as he deals with his mother’s protective nature, intensified since his older brother, Tyke, has left home. And older students will understand the difficulties and anxieties faced in the final days of high school. (Though students in NSW schools may question the timing of some end-of-year events)

Jacob has a lot to prove – to the community, his parents, his teachers and himself. With determination he will try – can he succeed in his ‘walk’?

February 1

Boys – Stories of war

boyBack in 2006, John Boyne released ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’ – a tale about a nine-year-old boy growing up during World War II in Berlin. Despite being the son of a Nazi Commandant, Bruno sees the world through the eyes, of a child, which provides an interesting slant on this passage of history.

Once again, Boyne has written a novel set in this time period, and again from a child’s focus – ‘The Boy at the Top of the Mountain’.

This time ‘the boy’, Pierrot, has a mixed heritage, being the son of a French mother and a German father, living initially in Paris. Sadly, this doesn’t remain the case, due to the gradual disintegration of his family:

Although Pierrot Fischer’s father didn’t die in the Great War, his mother Emilie always maintained it was the war that killed him. (opening sentence)

Thus, life changes for Pierrot and he has several relocations and events in a very short time, all set against the background of WWII.

Once again, Boyne’s writing brings the young adult reader some understanding of what life could have been like for young children. It would help to have a knowledge of European geography, as well as what was meant by the Berghof (a home of Hitler), to gain some understanding of the significance in this story – but maybe that’s a challenge for YA readers to reach!

Hear John Boyne talk about his novels:

I didn’t find ‘The Boy at the Top of the Mountain’ as engaging as ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’. Perhaps the mystery of ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’ (released without a blurb or much detail about the story from publishers) intrigued readers to begin with? Bruno’s loneliness certainly captured my heart, and I definitely sobbed at the end.

This new tale has similar elements, though it doesn’t feel as complete, but is definitely worth reading as it asks questions of loyalties vs the power of indoctrination. Pierrot faces many choices and changes in his life – some with tragic consequences. No doubt, there will be criticism of some aspects of this story, but its value remains as a way to take a different view of history, and to consider how those, other than the people ‘in power’, were affected by the catastrophic decisions of war – the young, the subservient, those of the ‘wrong’ religion or background.

[For me, this has also been an interesting companion read to ‘All the Light We Cannot See’, another novel set in occupied France during World War II, but at 529 pages of course with a lot more research and detail.]

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January 24

Indie Awards 2016

Each year, the Independent Booksellers select an array of Australian books for recognition. Often these books receive applause further afield, and so the shortlist proves to be a great point, for readers young and old, to select from. Previous winners include Anh Doh, Tim Winton, Richard Flanagan and Craig Silvey (with ‘Jasper Jones’ soon to be released as a movie).

This year’s shortlists (released last week) include:

LEB Indie Shortlist 2016 tiled web banner_1.indd

CHILDREN’S SHORTLIST
Olive of Groves by Katrina Nannestad & Lucia Masciullo, Illus (ABC Books, HarperCollins Australia)
The 65-Storey Treehouse by Andy Griffiths & Terry Denton, Illus (Pan Macmillan Australia)
The Bad Guys, Episode 1 by Aaron Blabey (Scholastic Australia)
*The Singing Bones by Shaun Tan (Allen & Unwin)

YOUNG ADULT SHORTLIST
*Cloudwish by Fiona Wood (Macmillan Australia)
Prince of Afghanistan by Louis Nowra (Allen & Unwin)
*Ranger’s Apprentice: The Early Years 1: The Tournament at Gorlan by John Flanagan (Random House Australia)
*Soon by Morris Gleitzman (Penguin Australia)

Source: http://www.indiebookawards.com.au/#!Shortlist-Announced-for-the-2016-Indie-Book-Awards/cmbz/569c69ff0cf28074ac9d3348

Many of the authors mentioned above would be well recognised by most readers, and our library has those marked *.

I wonder which of these titles will be awarded the top honour? Which one would you choose? 

Other categories also exist at the Indie site –  for debut novels adult reads and non-fiction titles – which are also worth looking into. The Indie Book Awards category winners and the Book of the Year 2016 will be announced at an event in the Sydney CBD on Wednesday 23 March.

Have you been to see your independent bookseller to chat about these titles? Will you have read some of these titles before then? which one will you vote for?

*** Shaun Tan is always hard to beat – so different from the others in the Children’s Shortlist – maybe he’s really in a class of his own?

# Some of the local independent booksellers we rely on include:

the Turning Page, Springwood

Megalong Books, Leura

Wisemans Books, Richmond

Harvard Books, Blaxland

and further afield, the Children’s Bookshop, Beecroft