Monday, December 12, 2011

Our two new Children's Laureates!

Something wonderful has just happened!

We, in Australia now have two wonderful Children's Laureates; author/illustrator Alison Lester and author/storyteller Boori Monty Pryor and I was fortunate enough to be at the launch of this inaugural, momentous occasional. The launch was held in the beautiful historic house of Carclew overlooking Adelaide on the lovely, fine morning of Saturday 10 December.

We gathered in the original ballroom where Dyan Blacklock,
Publisher of Omnibus Books and Acting Chair of ACLA (Australian Children's Literature Alliance) welcomed everybody. She stood against a backdrop of banners featuring artwork by another member of ACLA, renowned artist and illustrator, and Director of Books Illustrated, Ann James. Magpies were the theme of Ann's Work; a wonderful Aussie icon.

Aunty Josie then gave the traditional Welcome to Country for the Kaurna people. Following that, Dyan introduced another respected and well-known Aussie icon, Noni Hazelhurst, as guest speaker.
Noni gave a speech of passion and drive, highlighting the need for positive change in the world of children and children's books and how we must all work harder for our children and their future. Having two Children's Laureates who will travel widely during their two year tenure, and raise the profile of children's literature and illustration both in the world of media and politics is a welcomed and timely event.
Noni's speech was deeply moving and certainly everyone in the room felt the intensity and sincerity of her words. ACLA will be putting her speech onto their website soon, so watch out for that!
After the Honorable Grace Portolesi formally announced the two Laureates, we were provided with a delicious morning tea. Outside, in the grounds of Carclew, we were entertained by the children from Kaurna Plains school who danced traditional dances and then Alison read her picture book, Noni the Pony (and jokingly thanked the key speaker for loaning her the name!) and Boori told stories - which featured didgeridoos, snot and flies!
I came away uplifted and joyous.
During these difficult times of publishing uncertainties, here was something of substance, support and hope.
Thank you to all involved with ACLA and best wishes to Alison and Boori!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

word-pictures and poems

word-pictures and poems

I love the excitement and anticipation that those two connected words create! I’d put them in the same category as the words surprise and serendipity!

But sometimes, word-pictures need a little teasing-out!

I prefer to read poetry to children without first showing the illustration or displaying it as I read from the magazine or book.

I want the children to listen to the poem.

Afterwards I have several questions.

Did this poem remind you of anything?

What were your thoughts as I read the poem?

What word-pictures came into your mind?

During a recent school visit, I read a published poem of mine, called Dancing Cat.

I held back from showing the picture, explaining that the illustration is only one person’s way of seeing the picture. I wanted the children to appreciate the fact that their own word-pictures were equally valid before offering another image. However, I also added that an illustration could also expand thoughts and ideas as well as displaying different media or techniques.

When I asked about word-pictures, one boy said he imagined a cat leaping in the air – which happens in the poem. It was a bald comment, without much detail. By gently questioning further, I was able to encourage the boy to offer more information. In the end, he said the cat had long brown-and white fur that swished and swayed as it leapt. Beautiful!

I heaped praise on the boy’s expanded comments, suggesting that now I could see the idea of his imagined cat, because of the word-pictures he gave back to me.

By now there were plenty of hands in the air. Here’s a few of mind-pictures from others in the class.

A pure white cat in a tutu leaping from a brick wall.

A brown cat in a pirate’s outfit.

A cat with fluffy black fur and eyes like stars.

It excited me to see how much richer the children’s mind-pictures were when they allowed themselves to offer extra details.

The teasing-out had paid off!


Thursday, August 11, 2011

camel trek

And it is indeed a trek.

But a wonderful one, which is about to come to a halt in a leafy, semi-suburban park.

From my research into my award-winning information book, Hoosh! Camels in Australia,came the idea for a picture book about a very snotty camel, called Columbia. Gabe Cunnett was the illustrator for Columbia Sneezes! and he created a most unusual, bespeckled camel with an enormous hump.

Some years later, the Onkaparinga Council in SA deemed Columbia worthy enough a character to be added as a metal sculpture to their wondrous Storyboard Walk, set up in Thalassa Park, Aberfoyle Park.

Thanks to the two sculptors involved, Dani Gacesa McLean and Trevor Wren, I now have more details about the project. Columbia will be constructed from 12mm thick mild steel and the palm tree leaves will be treated with a copper surface finish.

The palm tree will be 3m in height and Columbia will be just over 2m in height.

Columbia will join many other storybook characters in the park, and I hope all the children and adults who wander down the path will enjoy seeing the very sneezy, snotty camel!
Columbia will be unveiled to a huge fanfare of waving handkerchiefs on Saturday, September 3, 2011.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Threes in writing

I love threes in writing.

Threes in lists. Threes as an action builder. Threes to mount suspense.

It’s all so satisfying.

First the set-up. Then the body. Then the climax.

Here’s a set up of threes from my latest ms, called What a Mouthful!

‘And courage and guts is also what it takes to stand up in front of hundreds of kids who have to sit and listen to you. From up on stage, you can hear their razor-like minds sharpening for the kill. Their elbows hovering to nudge each other. Their mouths bent, ready to guffaw into their chests.’

And here a three photos, with no apparent connection, apart from the fact that they are part of my writing and reading world.

How could I promote my passion of adults reading to kids?

Easy. Have a sticker made for the back windscreen of my car! Apart from promoting my website, it states Please read to your children every day!

Here’s Rosanne Hawke and myself in Port Augusta, South Australia. I launched her latest book, Taj and the Great Camel Trek, and because we’ve both written a number of camel books, we’re now known asThe Cameladies!

This dapper chap was snapped at the Kernewek Lowender, a festival in Yorke Peninsular, South Australia, celebrating the culture of early Cornish miners, who left Cornwall in the 1800’s to work in the copper mines. Notice the papier mache ‘hard-hat’ and the candle for light in the tunnels. I have researched and written a novel called Mined-Out (or Arthur Underground)about this period. It’s out at publishers at the moment.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Poetry Workshop

Recently I ran poetry workshops for classes of schoolchildren from Year 3 – 7, as part of cultural program and competition called The Wacky, Sticky, Soaky, Flowy Thing, devised by SA Water, the State Library and the State Art Gallery.

My brief was to encourage kids to write and enter poems based on the theme of water.

I was given a free rein – any aspect of water was okay.

The first thing I did was set to work with my scissors – I found over 30 magazine pictures with some connection to water, and cut them out. My plans, however, about how I’d use the visual material as part of the poetry writing process were still hazy.

Tip 1: when trying to sort out problems in your head, start by doing something practical but somehow aligned to the project. I find it helps me get into the topic before I begin the nitty-gritty of planning it.


I collected poetry books from my own library shelves, as well as those from other libraries and a couple from the SA Water Education Unit Library. I chose appropriate poems – both mine and others. (see Flood in the Poetry Page of my website:

Tip 2: poetry is meant to be read aloud. Provide examples where the class, groups or individuals can do so. Also, the use of examples is vital when discussing poetry – and can also be used as scaffolding for their own poems.


As in all writing, but especially in the concentrated, tight form of poetry, use of the senses must be emphasised.

Tip 3: I searched the Internet for Royalty-free water noises. One track provided approximately five minutes of water sounds; trickling streams, rushing rivers, rain on roofs, wild storm and crashing waves.

I thought I’d either use it as a background to the children’s writing or provide it as their only sensory motivator.


If you’re using a particular picture as part of a poetry-writing exercise, it needs to be large enough so the class can focus on any details you’re mentioning, or that takes their interest.

Tip 4: photocopy pictures and get them enlarged.


After much thinking and sorting, and clarifying a scaffolding process with my friend and writing colleague Lorraine Marwood, I began to devise the six one-and-a-half-hour poetry-writing sessions.

I tend to over prepare!

Tip 5: however, it can take the stress out of the actual session if you have more material than less.


One of the writing processes I used involved 5 steps:

1. Brainstorm a personal situation that involved water in any form.

2.Do a fast-write based on the ideas generated in the brainstorm.

3.Underline any phrases or ideas that may potentially become part of the poem.

4.Next set them down in poetry format – leaving the rest of the writing.

5.Shuffle those selected phrase - add, delete or expand to create the first draft of a poem.

I demonstrated.

First I began by brainstorming an idea on the board.

Next I explained my brainstorming and how each phrase was connected to the anecdote I intended using as the basis of the poem – about once being aboard a boat in a fog-bound bay in Hong Kong. I emphasised the sensory aspects, the details, and my feelings in that situation.

I then did a fast-write while the children did their brainstorming.

I held up my rough, scrawled page of fast-write, emphasising that at this stage we were creating a bank of thoughts and mind-images. I showed them how messy my page was. I didn’t stop to rub out or correct or check spelling. I wrote as I remembered - as clearly as I could.

They then did their fast-write while I began to underline any phrase or line that drew my interest. Later I wrote up several lines to show how I might begin the poem.


Several days later I looked at the writing I’d done at the workshop and decided, for my own interest, to proceed with the fog poem. Many drafts later I finished. Here it is:

Whiskery mist

Island boat moored in bay

breathing in-and-out grey morning tide

oily water licks its sides

while whiskery mist slips and slopes

down gangplank.

Island boat putters

sputters, nosing through

the dim shroud

of sea-meets-sky

a great soft cat with hushed paws

blurring, furring

furring, blurring till

a shriek rips the mist

fog horn



Island boat heaves about, crouches

moors again

breathing in-and-out grey morning tide until


the great soft cat stretches and

slinks away.


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Rare and Wonderful Thing - A Children's Bookshop!

Recently, while holidaying in Tasmania, I discovered a Children's Bookshop! Set in beautiful Launceston, Stories Bookshop has been lovingly created by Damian Morgan and partners, from an old warehouse. Because of its size, it had space to create 'rooms' which were both intriguing and beckoning.

While there I had a lovely chat with Damian who was both enthusiastic and realistic about the bookshop. As an ex-teacher and a published children's author, Damian, the bookseller, wears many hats and is concerned that three other bookshops in Tasmania have recently. He also doesn't carry as much stock as he did several years ago. Perhaps it's the digital changeover that's causing the downfall - or, more likely, he believes, the cheaper sales through internet.

As we chatted over coffee - yes, there's a cafe in the shop as well! - I couldn't help but be buoyed up by Damian's exuberance and positive attitude. Changes are afoot. We all know that, but somehow, I think that Damian and his crew will stay afloat to provide many more years of wonderful service to buyers and browsers of children's books!

ps. The sales desk is a boat!