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Saturday, November 30, 2013

Recent Bookish Downloads: Rosemary's Baby

I suddenly felt like reading Ira Levin's Rosemary's Baby, having read The Stepford Wives and The Boys From Brazil.

Interesting, entertaining, though not all that scary. And a bit dated. When it came out, it must have been considered really scary. Remember those movie posters?  "Pray for Rosemary's baby." In all fairness, we know how it ends now. I haven't seen the film, but who doesn't know?

 As a piece of classic horror fiction, though... I thought the intro to this edition made a good point - that this novel had taken horror fiction out of distant places - far off country estates, castles, Transylvania - and brought it home to your own block of flats. Even today, the average YA scary book usually begins with the heroine moving to a small country town where things are different from the big city, on the assumption that it's easier to get away with horrible things in distant fictional places. Home is supposed to be where you're safe, but not for Rosemary. She can't count on the nice neighbours, she can't even count on her own husband! That IS scary, even if the Satanic plot isn't.

Still worth reading, even if all the publicity over the years has told you the ending.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Li Cunxin Speaks To Sam, Chantelle, Kiarah, Tibian and Priyanka

Li Cunxin, Artistic Director - from Queensland ballet website

And finally, rounding off this series of Literature Circles author interviews, Li Cunxin, the author of his bestselling autobiography, Mao's Last Dancer - the subject of a movie and even a picture storybook -  has been nice enough to take time from his hectic schedule as the artistic director of  the Queensland Ballet(currently doing a production of The Nutcracker) - to speak to students Chantelle, Sam, Priyanka, Tibian and Kiarah - about his life journey. Many thanks, Mr Li, and welcome to The Great Raven! (I just want to let it be known that I've been lucky enough to have seen him dance with the Australian Ballet and the students found him on YouTube) And congratulations on being chosen as Queensland's Australian Of The Year!


1. What inspired you to tell your story and how long did it take for you to write the book?

An author friend of mine, Graeme Base, heard certain aspects of my story and encouraged me to write a book about it, his words were: Li, you should write your story down, your story will give people hope and courage. He then introduced me to his long time publisher Penguin. It took me two and a half years to write my book.

2. What life do you think you would have had if you weren’t a dancer?

A poor Chinese peasant life.

3. Do your kids want to be dancers or do they have their own dreams? 

My two daughters learnt to dance, but they also have their own dreams.

4. Have you visited your old home in China in recent years? 

Yes, I go back there at least once a year. My niang and brothers still live there. My dia died a few years ago.

5. Do you regret anything in the way your life has turned out?

No regrets. My life experiences (good or bad) made me who I am.

6. What was your opinion of the movie that was made based on your book

It's a good movie but it's always difficult to portray a person's life within couple of hours. As you know, my book covered over 40 years of my life.

7. Do you dance any other style than ballet?

Besides ballet I also danced modern, jazz, pas de duex, Spanish, and Chinese folk dance

8. What do you think of dancing currently compared to when you first started?

Similar, especially ballet.

9. Did you ever think that you would become this successful?

No. It's still quite surreal really.

10. Do you still eat dried yams
No, never desired to. Had enough of it. However, it did save our lives, so I'm grateful. But still, NO MORE dried yams!

**I wish you all great success in life. Remember to work hard, be determined and have passion and dedication in what you do, you will be successful then. Li

Gemini, Kimberley, Paris, Nida and Marwa Interview Gabrielle Wang

Gabrielle's image from her website
Two years ago Gabrielle Wang was kind enough to answer some questions from my students who had  read her wonderful book A Ghost In My Suitcase and now, she has gone and done it again, for another group! Thanks for paying a second visit to the Great Raven, Gabrielle - I have learned even more this time! Gabrielle writes gentle, touching novels for young people with characters you can care about and in this one, her adult character, Por Por, is strong and comforting, the sort of grandmother you want whether it's to care for you or scare away ghosts!

General questions 

What was the first book you ever wrote?
The first book I wrote was The Garden of Empress Cassia. Before I wrote that book I didn’t know I could write a story.

How long have you been an author?
I’ve been an author for twelve years.

How old were you when you first started writing?
I remember making a tiny book with illustrations when I was about six years old because I always loved drawing.

How many books have you written?
I’ve written twelve books.

Questions about A Ghost In My Suitcase

How long did it take you to write this book? (And how long does it usually take you to write a book?)

A Ghost in My Suitcase took about 2 years to write. My young adult novel, Little Paradise took 3 years to write but most of my books take around 2 years. 

Where did you get the idea for this book?

A Ghost in My Suitcase is a prequel to one of my other books called The Pearl of Tiger Bay. In that book there is a minor character - a ghosthunting grandma, Por Por. She was such a strong character in The Pearl of Tiger Bay I felt I had to write a whole book about her.

  Why did the mum die so early in the book and how old was she when she died?

It was necessary for me to get Celeste to China by herself so she could meet with Por Por and learn the ghosthunting traditions without the rest of the family. By having her mother die it gave Celeste a sadness right from the beginning of the story and a purpose to go to the Isle of Clouds. 
Celeste’s mum was about 43 when she died.

Were the names of the characters based on people you know? (or were any of the characters based on real people? SB)

Celeste was the name of my cat when I was a child. Apart from that one, all the other names were invented for the book.

 What inspired the "fat belly?"  

The name came from a gangster who lived in Shanghai in the 1930’s. 

Who is the girl on the front cover? Was she chosen by audition?
The girl is my niece, Belinda. We had to take a lot of photos to get one for the cover.   
She is now studying Fashion Design at RMIT and makes and sells her clothes on Etsy. Here’s her site if you want to take a look at her clothes.

Was A Ghost In My Suitcase written for kids, teens or adults?
It is written for 8-12 year olds but I hope it is enjoyed by readers of all ages.

Would you think about turning this book into a movie? (and who would play the lead roles? SB)
I’d love to turn all my books into movies. I’m not sure who could play the lead as it would have to be someone of mixed race – half Chinese, half European. There’s nobody I can think of who’s a well known actor. We would have to audition someone new for the part. 

Tell us about your latest book
It is about two extraordinary children – one raised by the magical Wishbird and the other, an orphan in the City of Soulless. When the Wishbird becames gravely ill, Oriole must leave her forest and find a cure for him. It is for readers 10 and up.  

What are you working on now?

I’m writing another series for Our Australian Girl. It’s an exciting adventure story about a girl called Pearlie who lives in Darwin and witnesses the bombing of the city during World War Two.  

If you'd like to read more about Gabrielle, here's the link to her website, which has some great stuff on it, not only about her books, but her life and her art - as well as a wonderful writer, Gabrielle is also a terrific artist!

Cassandra, Caitlin, Loc and Inaam interview Steven Herrick!

Some years ago, I taught the verse novel The Simple Gift by Steven Herrick to my Year 11. It's a gorgeous story, gentle and warm, about a friendship between a boy who has run away from his father and an older man who has lost his family, both living in railway carriages in a fictional part of regional Victoria called Bendarat. My students and I loved it - who would have thought there were so many autobiographical elements in it?

 And it can mean something to younger teens as well. Cassandra, Loc, Inaam  and Caitlin are Year 7 and 8 students and simply adored it. They said they had originally not liked the ending, but read it again and changed their minds, agreeing that it was, indeed appropriate.

Mr Herrick has written many other books since then, including one recent one called Pookie Aleera Is Not My Boyfriend, a delightful verse novel shortlisted for the 2013 Children's Book Council of Australia Book Of The Year. He is also an amazing performance poet, who once visited my school. Considering all the things he has been doing, it was truly kind of him to pause in his busy life to speak to some fans.

Read the questions and answers below and if you haven't yet discovered Steven Herrick's work, what are you waiting for?

                Why was the book called ‘The Simple Gift’?
It’s named after a poem in the book. When I wrote that poem, I knew I should call the book that as it summed up my thoughts on what Billy (and to a lesser extent, Caitlin) were offering Old Bill - the simple gift of time, friendship, love, acceptance.

                If you wrote a sequel, would Old Bill return?
Many people have asked me to write a sequel. But, sorry I won’t. I’m happy where it ends because I think each of the main characters now has a future different from when the story began. Having said that, I imagine any sequel would involve Old Bill returning and perhaps being a surrogate father to Billy.

                In the end of the book, Old Bill left and moved to Queensland - why did it end that way?
I wanted Old Bill to make a symbolic journey to Qld to perhaps rid himself of the guilt and negative memory of his loss. He was making a pilgrimage to be where he knew Jesse would approve of. Like the way people put the ashes of loved ones in special places.

                What character did you like the most? My favourite is Billy because even though he has a hard life, he still continues.
Billy was certainly the reason I started writing the book. I wanted to focus on how he is a positive life-affirming young man. In the end, however, Old Bill became my favourite. I guess because I’m much closer to Old Bill’s age than Billy’s!

                How did you come up with the idea for this story?
A lot of the minor aspects are based on my life when I was young. I slept in a disused train carriage in Ballarat, I stole scraps from McDonalds, I jumped in a speedboat on a train, I swam in the river to wash. But, the bigger story is fictional. While I met lots of men like Old Bill, I didn’t meet a particular man with his tragic story and Caitlin was a figment of my imagination! I wanted to write a story where young people influence an older person, not vice versa.

                        The story was mostly about Old Bill, Billy and Caitlin’s relationship, what would happen if one of the main characters wasn’t in the story? Caitlin, for example?
I couldn’t imagine the story without each of the three leads. They each have their own values and character they bring to the narrative. Most of my books tend to have three, or perhaps four main characters. Except Cold Skin, which has nine! ( Cold Skin was a terrific thriller all in verse!)

                The town Old Bill and Billy met was called Bendarat, which was a mix of Bendigo and Ballarat - why make a fictional place when these are real places?
So I don’t have to be 100% accurate to the ‘real’ place. I can create the town in my mind and on the pages. Authors like to be totally in control of their story. Also, Ballarat has changed quite a bit since I was there in the 1970s, so even if I made it completely accurate, it would not be like the Ballarat of today.

                Do you think Billy ever meets up with his father again?
More appropriately, do you think Billy meets his father?  I’d say it’s unlikely. Billy runs away to avoid violence, a smart move. He builds a potential life for himself in Bendarat. I can see his relationship with Caitlin and Old Bill growing, but not so much with his dad.

                Why didn’t Billy’s mum play a role in the story?
I wanted to focus on Billy’s future with these new people. I imagine his Mum left home to avoid the violence much like Billy does. The beauty of a verse-novel is I can skip over some of the necessary ‘back-story’. Or, at least, I hope I can.

                Are any of the characters based on real people?
Billy is a very little bit like me when I was young, in that he presents a positive face to the world. I’d like to think I still do that. But, no, the other two characters are fictional.

                Why was the story written in people’s different views?
Simply put, there are always two or more sides to every story. I like showing things aren’t always black and white. It’s in the grey where drama happens. It means I can write stories from different ‘camera-angles’ like a director in a movie would. For example, when Billy and Caitlin first meet in McDonalds - the scene is told from each perspective.

                Why did you make Billy’s father an alcoholic?
I like beer, myself, but I recognise that alcoholism can be one of the most damaging elements in a family.

                Why didn’t you make Caitlin’s parents know about Billy’s and Caitlin’s relationship?
I didn’t really want to broach the issue of them ‘moralising’ about Billy in this story. I think Caitlin’s parents get a tough time enough in this book, in that I’m showing them more concerned with Caitlin’s ‘economic and social’ well-being rather than her ‘soul’. We as parents worry too much about the minor things in our child’s life rather than what sort of person we want them to be.

                Do you think Old Bill’s daughter’s death made a big impact on his relationship with Billy?
Absolutely. You could argue that both male characters have lost someone important - Billy has lost his dad through alcoholism and Old Bill lost Jesse through an accident. In a way their relationship in the book is built upon respect, acceptance and love - perhaps the building blocks of what family relationships should be built upon? They  each adopt a new family and attempt to move forward in their lives. 

Do you have a new book coming out?

My next novel, to be published in May 2014, is called Bleakboy and Hunter stand out in the rain and it's for ages 8-13, approximately.

We'll look forward to reading it, Steven. Many thanks for dropping in on The Great Raven! 

If you'd like to find out more about Steven Herrick, here's a link to his website:


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

You Know You're a Fantasy Hero When...

Of course, this also applies to some space operas....

You know you're a hero when...

1.Your parents are killed by mysterious creatures, putting them out of the picture so you can go have an adventure. (Also applies to the standard children's fantasy adventure)

2. The same mysterious creatures are following you. They kill your dog as well as your family, but you escape them.

3. You are given a mystical object by someone who promptly dies/is killed - and the baddies want it....

4.You acquire a wise old mentor who tells you that your parents weren't your parents and drags you off on an adventure, in which the mystical object plays a vital part, for good or evil. Usually for good, as only you can use it - the mentor trains you.

5.You acquire a wisecracking sidekick, sometimes two sidekicks who fight non stop. One is a girl and you fall in love.

6. The wisecracking sidekick gets the girl - you have to complete the quest, after all, who has time for romance?

7. Despite the fact that you're a farm boy from Nowhereville, you end up as the prophesied Chosen One and  hereditary Guardian of the object and leader of a group called the Old Ones or the Ancient Ones or some such. Oh, and your real parents died defending it and you.

8.And most importantly, you save the universe, turn out to be a long lost prince and you STILL don't get the girl. Life sucks for a Chosen One.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Reece, Rachelle, Joubert and Dylan Interview Felice Arena!

Felice with some young fans - not my students, alas! I wish!

Again, some of my students have interviewed fabulous Aussie writers, as part of their Literature Circles response (There will be another three!). First cab off the rank is delightful writer Felice Arena, who has written many books for young people.

Specky Magee is the hero of a series of hugely popular novels by Felice and his schoolfriend, footy player Garry Lyon . In the first one, which the above students have read recently, Specky can't help wondering if he has been adopted. He's the only member of the family who is at all interested in football, which he plays brilliantly. And what about that photo of him as a baby, dressed in Geelong football team colours?

Let's take a look at Felice's answer to questions from some of his young fans!

1.     What inspired this novel? Why did you choose to write a novel about football?

I was living overseas when the idea of Specky Magee came to me. Specky was born out of nostalgia. I was missing home, particularly my childhood years. Football was, and still is for many people, the dominant language in Australia (yes, I call it a language) especially in Victorian country towns - where I grew up.
Many of the footy clubs in regional communities are more than just a place to play a game they were a kind of social hub. Even if you werent into footy, it was hard not to be a part of it in some way. When I returned from overseas I noticed that there wasnt a lot of fiction about Aussie Rules for kids; there were plenty of nonfiction fact- and record-type books, but nothing that used our national game as a backdrop to deeper and heartier stories. I had often wondered what it would be like to see the world of football through the eyes of an up-and-coming footy champion or any elite sporting champion for that matter.
Someone who had made that journey and lived in that world was my friend and AFL legend Garry Lyon. So when we ran into each other after I returned from overseas in the late 90s, I shared my idea of writing about a young footballer named Specky and asked if he might want to be involved in the process. He did, and not just in a tokenistic way he was very eager to contribute to the writing and help make Specky real. And that was more than fine by me! Little did I know at the time that this was going to be one of the most rewarding, challenging, and ultimately enjoyable collaborations Id ever been engaged in. Because of other commitments and schedules, Garry and I didnt get around to actually writing the first Specky until two years after that first meeting. The good thing about this, though, was that we both had plenty of time to daydream and workshop storylines for Specky before we actually sat down and wrote the very first line.

How long did it take you to write Specky Magee?
Each Specky Magee book took just under a full year to produce: A couple of months to brainstorm and map out a skeletal storyline; three or four months to write the first draft; a month or two to work with our editor, Michelle, at Penguin publishers - she always had great advice on how to improve our story; and a couple of months to write a second, and if needed, a third draft. 
Was there anything you thought of as you were writing, or any scenes you wrote, that didnt end up in the book?
No. I dont think so. We were lucky to be able to spend a lot of time on preparation and brainstorming of each book - to make each storyline super-tight and succinct.
Were there any stages in your writing when you wanted to quit?
No. There mightve been a day or two, as with any job, when I didnt feel like writing, but I never wanted to quit. If you feel like that when writing a book you probably shouldnt be writing it. 
Which team do you support in AFL? (Would it be Geelong, by any chance?)
Of course the greatest team of all! I grew up in a family of die-hard Collingwood supporters so please have some sympathy for me (cue the violins) so it was tough to be the only Cats supporter in that bunch!
Did any of the things in the book happen to you or anyone you know? (Is any of the story based on real life?)
Speckys character is definitely an amalgamation of Garrys and my personalities - how could he not be? Also, one of Speckys best mates, Danny Castellino, and his family are closely based on my big Italian family.
Do you have a favourite scene in the book?
In the very first book it would have to be when Specky discovers the photograph of himself as a baby dressed head-to-toe in footy clothing. Why would Mum and Dad dress me up in footy gear if they hate footy so much?  This scene is a crucial scene in the book because it launches Specky on a life-changing journey, which continues over eight books.

How did you collaborate with Garry Lyon? For example, did you plan it together, write alternative chapters, have one write the first draft and the other the second? How did it work?
I recently gave a detailed answer to this question for another blog. And I dont think I could better it here so if you dont mind, Id like to direct you to that page:

Tell us about your newest book.
My latest project was a high-tech adventure series called Andy Roid. There are ten books all together. A radio announcer recently said: Andy Roid is Iron Man meets James Bond via Astro Boy. Its pure high-adrenalin, superhero reading.  That pretty much sums it up.

Are you working on anything now?
Yes. Im working on a series for beginning readers and also a tweens novel heavily influenced by my days as a performer in West End musical theatre in London. But thats another story or at least another answer, for the next interview! ;-)
N.B., A revised edition (and new cover) of the first Specky Magee is due to be published March 2014 by Puffin Australia

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Literature Circles The Movie - Take 1 Done!

Late last night I finished the first version of my DVD and burned a couple of copies. I've been discovering bits I filmed and adding them. I worked out a way to get that upside down bit right side up and realised that one of the staff was being rude to a student. No doubt he deserved it, but the purpose of this is to celebrate what the students have done. Back I went to iMovie and fiddled till that frame was gone.

The credits were a problem of their own. The end credits were meant to be a lovely band I discovered on Jamendo, Celestial Aeon Project, playing a piece called Sunset, but somehow I got the voice of Kerry Greenwood talking about writing! It took a lot of fiddling to get that fixed and I still seem to have her voice underneath the opening credit music, but that will be fixed before Friday.

I just wanted to have something ready in case I don't have time to do more before we show them to the kids.

When I started teaching, there was something called the book report - anyone remember that? You had to tell the story and say which of the characters you liked best and why. If the teacher was being especially imaginative, you got to do a book cover. How times have changed!

I had to do those when I started. I gave them their own choice of book and some, of course, tried to persuade me they'd read a book they hadn't. Invariably, it was one I had read. I remember one boy who gave himself away as I was returning some work after I said, "Someone in this class has written a review of a book that person hasn't read." I wasn't even looking at him, but he blurted out, "I did read it, miss, honestly I did!"

And then there was the girl who read romance novels by a favourite writer. "Hang on," I'd say, "didn't you write about this one last time?"  "Oh, no, miss!" she would assure me. "That was set on a sheep station. This one is set on a cattle station." Which said more about the formulaic nature of some romance fiction, especially that writer, than it did about the student.

I think this is a much better way to appreciate a novel, don't you? Though I have heard that some of our senior campus folk are trying to bring back the class text for junior classes, even though there are two years of class texts before they begin VCE. I suspect some of our staff need to be removed from teaching older students and made to teach the little ones for a while. They just don't get it. Before you know it, we'd be back to book reports!

All the more reason to get this DVD ready and show it at a staff meeting.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Literature Circles The Movie!

The post below is reprinted from my other blog, Sue Bursztynski's Page. I know this is basically a book review site, but this is how we do books with younger kids at school. It's a wonderful way to teach books. The kids read a book they can handle and discuss it, with some guidance - a set of "roles" they play, such as Discussion Director, Predictor, etc. - and the teacher has the pleasure of seeing the young men and women gravely discussing the book they're reading like adults in their book clubs, but better. I have described it to the students as "book club for the classroom".

Later, they have to go back to class texts, because that will be required of them in their older years, but meanwhile, they can work at their own level on a book they aren't struggling with if they're not the best of readers, or that will challenge them if they're good readers and they're learning to discuss a book and think more deeply about it and what it means.

Following this, in my case at least, there's none of this old-style "Book report". They interpret the text in a number of different ways (I have even offered fan fiction as an option for the better readers, because you have to understand the book and the characters to get fan fiction right. Last year, I had a very fine fan story based on Marianne De Pierres' Burn Bright. She was one of only two students who took me up on that, because it's harder than it looks). They can do book trailers - those fill the curriculum requirement for "persuasive language" because you have to persuade people to read the book. Some of the students even prepared interview questions for authors who have agreed to it(we have four interviews this year!) - I check them out before sending the questions on, and they must show they've read and understood the book. I won't take "What's your favourite food?" unless it's a story about food!

Anyway, check this out and see what you think. I'm rather proud of my students and I know they had a good time doing this and learned a lot.

"So, I'm sitting at home on report writing day, having done as much as I could on reports(still things to gather and marking to do anyway) and I'm working on my DVD for Literature Circles - we're going to have a showing for both classes next Friday and I must have it done and burn some copies for those kids who would like to take them home.

It's not easy. I only have one set of actual discussions - every time I tried to film a discussion at least one member of the group would raise her hands over her face and yelp, "Oh, no! Don't film me!" It's not as if I'm putting them on YouTube, I would argue - they're just for us, and for showing to teachers who want some idea of how this works. But it just didn't happen. I had one good discussion being led by Catherine, our integration aide, a multi-talented woman who is an artist and film maker (I have a film she took of the integration students building a model based on the book they had read, The Big Dig, and talking about it. Brilliant!). But for some reason, when I loaded it on to iMovie, it turned upside down, and I still haven't worked out how to right it and the one friend who could help me is in bed with stomach cramps. Even the computer technician at work said, "If you find out, let me know."

So most of the filming is of my voice interviewing the students about the books they were reading at the time and it sort of works, but I really prefer the discussions.

 Some of the students chose to do an author interview and I've arranged these with the authors, though I have only emailed one set of questions, because they really need some editing and I don't want to edit them too much or it won't be the students' questions, it will be mine. One set of questions still needs to be retrieved from our Public Share, where I hope the student who typed them has saved them. Those will go up on The Great Raven when done.

And then there were the book trailers - well, there was one quite good one based on Gillian Rubinstein's Space Demons. I don't think the publishers would use it in YouTube, but it gets the message across and persuades viewers this book might be worth checking out. It was put together smoothly in Powerpoint and saving it to Quicktime gave me no problems. Likewise, the trailer for Cirque Du Freak by Darren Shan, which was produced properly by a student who knew how to use Moviemaker and could be converted to Quicktime via HandBrake. That was a good one too, though I wouldn't post it on YouTube, because the images were copyright. The music came from Jamendo, which is Creative Commons.

I had somewhat more trouble with the book trailer for Holes. It worked fine on a PC, but was missing its music when I loaded it on to my Mac. I was told by our info tech teacher that PowerPoint doesn't work with mp3(yet it worked okay with the Space Demons trailer) and he had recommended .wav, which doesn't work on a Mac. However, I found out the music he used, downloaded it as mp3 and recorded it on my computer, on which the PowerPoint opened as Keynote and Keynote does take mp3. Then I was able to save it to Quicktime and upload it to iMovie. Yay!

The one that REALLY gave me a headache was the trailer for Jenny Mounfield's The Icecream Man, a scary thriller for teens. Despite my warnings, the students produced it in Moviemaker, which should never be used by anyone who hasn't the experience and confidence to make it work. The trailer looked fine, but the file I was given by the student who put it together was not properly saved - it was a 66k wlmp file. And the student with the finished product took it with him and went off to Bangladesh for the rest of the school year!

Fortunately, he had left me a folder with the images and even the music. No text, but I got an idea - I would put it together using their images and music, in KeyNote. And they'd done me a storyboard with the planned text.

Unfortunately, I discovered that the text was plagiarised directly from the official book trailer and couldn't allow it to be used. I just couldn't! I don't know if that was the text they actually ended up using - they finished it off on the last day of Lit Circles classes and I was running around like a chicken with its head off, helping other students, asking them to save to Public share, saving files to my USB stick...

The tune was Pop Goes The Weasel - the original trailer had that, but this version was actually better than the one on the trailer, scarier - just imagine Pop Goes The Weasel sounding scary! So I took the images, placed them in order and recorded the music they had chosen. next year, when he returns, I'll ask the travelling student if he still has the original file and as long as he hasn't used the stolen text I will replace this one on the DVD. I don't think most kids understand the concept of plagiarism. They've done their research, they've found the information, what's all the fuss about? Or they tweak a few words and say, "But Miss, I've rewritten it!" (Rolls eyes).

Anyway, it seems to work not too badly, with the combination of images and music and I have placed it on iMovie along with the rest of the files. Time for a quick lunch and then put it together into a film!"

Monday, November 18, 2013

I'm Finally Reading...

Okay, I admit it: I download far more than I can possibly read in any week or month! (And then I end up rereading my favourites...) And way back in   May, at the Reading Matters Conference, I was downloading books as the speakers did their talks, so that I had nothing to sign! 

I have read some of them, but Libba Bray's 1920s horror novel, The Diviners, was waiting for me, lurking on my iBook shef every time I opened it. I've nearly finished  Going Bovine, her Don Quixote novel with mad cow disease , and will be putting it into the library for Priyanka to enjoy when she gets back from Fiji. Not sure if she will enjoy it, but she asked for it. It's a bizarre road novel! 

The Diviners is horror fiction with 1920s New York as a background and so far, not too over the top, so I can finish it. The screams seem to be happening at the end of chapters. I can live with that.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Dear Teachers And Librarians

Dear teachers and librarians,

Recently, one of my writer LinkedIn groups has been discussing school visits and doing them for free.

Most of them on this list say they don't mind doing the occasional free visit for a local school or as a favour to a friend. Really. And as a teacher-librarian I have benefited from some of these myself, usually from new writer friends wanting the practice, but also from the occasional big name writer -  and have appreciated them.

And this is the thing: lack of appreciation. When I have had a free visit - always offered, never requested, because I 'd never do that, but when someone offers I won't say no  - I have thought the least I could do was promote the author via the local paper if possible, provide a great lunch and a thank you gift. I have asked them whether they would prefer just a lunchtime visit with a small group or a full scale talk to a year level.  They may bring books for sale and because most of our students can't afford it, I buy some from my own pocket for prizes and some for the library. Actually, I make sure the library has some before the visit and that at least a few kids have read them and can ask questions. I have a standing offer of book launches; I would pay for the nibbles myself and get in the papers.

But some of the writers and artists on this list had horror stories. One was of being left with a class to get on with it, with not so much as a thank you and, because this was a festival, there was a bookseller stall and none of that author's books on it, despite her having given the information well in advance. A festival suggests a school that could well and truly have afforded to pay - and probably did pay the other speakers, but this was a favour to a parent friend. Clearly, that school didn't value what they hadn't paid for.

An illustrator who did a free visit gave the school her sketches and was told afterwards that they would sell them and pay their next guest with the proceeds!

This is a controversial subject, on which full time writers blog frequently, usually against any freebies, and I don't blame them, but that isn't what this post is about.

Really, you should be paying, and paying well. If my school hadn't cut my budget in half, to the equivalent of another school's petty cash, I would never accept the free visit offers. But they're usually from friends and I can't help thinking how much my students would love it and I yield to temptation. This is their living and you wouldn't ask a plumber to come and fix your sink for free, would you? (Well, one of the teacher librarians at my school is a qualified electrician who has often been asked to do maintenance work, but still...)

But if your local writer or artist knows your school can't afford to pay much and offers to help you out, the least you can do is appreciate what they've done. Don't leave the visit arrangements to someone else. Do make sure that your guest feels like a star for the length of the visit. Promote them to the press - and for heaven's sake feed them!

Children's Charity Network Dinner - Writers And Artists Of The Future!

Last night I attended the Children's Charity Network dinner. It's a sort of literary lunch/dinner in that each table has a writer or illustrator sitting there, but is really about awards for young writers and artists. The annual competition is run by the same people who do Oz Kids In Print, a magazine for and by children, both on line and, for a fee, print. This is something I need to check out for our students, both the competition and the magazine, in consultation with  some of my colleagues. See? I went there in my capacity as a writer and  ended up thinking of my teaching role! I've bookmarked the web site to look at later - for the moment I have work to prepare for tomorrow.

I was at a table with George Ivanoff, Corinne King and her husband and a proud family who had come from interstate to see their young daughter collect an award for a short story about a volcano. The children's stories and art were published in a magazine that everyone received. The cover was a photograph that had won a prize. It looked very professional, something for which I would pay, but was done by a primary school child.

The young lady who had won a prize for her story was in Grade 5. She said her teacher had helped her, but this was an extensions teacher. Translation: she had this teacher in the first place because she was bright and creative and the school thought she merited extra support. Apparently, the teacher had left the school and still doesn't know she had won this prize! I suggested that if she couldn't get details from the school she try Googling the teacher, as one of my former students did me when she needed help and the school wasn't responding. "But I don't know her surname!" she wailed.

She was a terribly mature little thing. I never talk down to children anyway, though I do confess to the odd endearment. We talked. She told me she really was more interested in music than writing and played two instruments. I made her laugh by telling her that at her age I was reading a book on my music stand while practising scales and my family had to keep coming in and snatching the books away. She said this happened to her too.

The awards were presented over the course of the evening. Unfortunately, despite the screens around the room, there was no way to see the presenters or the presentations unless you were sitting near the stage (I was near the back and with my back to the stage anyway, so had to twist around and stretch to see). Mistake! Sometimes I could barely hear them, especially when people got bored when the awards had gone too long and their own children had had their prizes and chatted, not listening. It might have been better to have kept the photos till the end and perhaps done the awards between courses.

Still, it was a great evening and I'm glad I went. There were some amazingly talented children and teens there who will do wonderfully well in publishing when their time comes. And I got to meet them now.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

This Week's Random Reading

I've been having fun picking up random books as I leave my library and taking them home to read.

These last few days, I've picked up a few. Dreamhunter by NZ writer Elizabeth Knox is set in an alternative universe NZ, Southland, which was unoccupied when settlers arrived 250 years before theEdwardian  era. Religion is somewhat different, with an Orthodox Church and Lazarus as a patron saint, whose feast day is celebrated by Southlanders. Some years ago, a young man, who has since become the heroine's father, stumbled into a place called -er, the Place, where those with the gift can find and catch dreams, which they can then share with others, leading to dream palaces and usage in hospitals and even prisons...Something nasty is gong on!

I enjoyed it, though I was a bit annoyed to find a cliffhanger at the end, suggesting a sequel, something not indicated on the cover. A Google search showed that it's the first of a duet.

Barry Jonsberg's My Life As An Alphabet is very funny, with serious underpinnings, but for once there's no nasty twist at the end. Candice Phee is a girl with a lot of family troubles, which she is trying to solve in the most bizarre ways, and a friend who insists he comes from another dimension and is trying to return every night by jumping from a tree. I believe this one has been shortlisted for an award. Oh, and he makes a cheeky reference to his own novel Kiffo And The Pitbull, which you'll only recognise if you've read it.

I'm just finishing off The Hunt by Andrew Fukuda, described by one blurb as "The Hunger Games With Vampires".  Not quite, and I have some issues with the worldbuilding, but it's very readable,  the kids should like it and there aren't too many books for boys these days. The hero is a human boy living in a vampire society in which humans, or hepers as they're called, are a rare delicacy. Thanks to his father's training, he's managed to pass as a vampire, living on his own for seven years. If they smell his blood or sweat, he won't just be bitten, he'll be eaten. Vampires go crazy at the scent of human. They're not undead, they're a separate species.

Alas, another book that probably has a sequel, with no warning on the cover!

On my way out of the door today, I picked up Four Of Diamonds, a collection of four short books in the series about the Diamond brothers, by Anthony Horowitz. Tim Diamond is the worst private eye in England; the stories re seen from the viewpoint of his younger brother, Nick. I've read the first two, The Falcon's Malteser and Public Enemy Number Two. They were hilarious and the frst was made into a film called Just Ask For Diamond.

I'm really enjoying these random reads, though I have a pile of review books to finish as well. It will help me in my library job as well as be fun for me.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Back From The YABBAs 2013!

Today, I took a day's leave without pay to attend the Young Australian Best Book Awards, held this year at Haileybury College in East Brighton. I would have liked to take some students, but I just couldn't. The most interest would have come from Years 7 and 8 and I would have had to come to school and pick them up and then take them to the event and back to school again and East Brighton was just too far from Sunshine. I did ask the late Graham Davey once if my school could possibly host it. "Sure!" he said. "Can you fit in 300 students?" And of course, without a school hall, I couldn't. My library fits 200 and that's if they're all on the floor(which isn't a problem as they usually are on the floor at the YABBAs) but not much space for 20 writers to sign afterwards. So the event tends to go to Eastern/southeastern private schools, although Graham told me it would have been nice to have the event in the western suburbs for once.

So I went as a writer and at the same time, they had a lovely box of books waiting for my library, though it was too big and heavy for me to lug home by public transport, so Sue Osborne, the TL, kindly arranged for the books to be posted. I would have loved to take them in tomorrow to show my book loving students, but will just have to wait. Even better, she said that in future, she would send me anything she got for the Premier's Reading Challenge for my library!

Here are the winners of this year's awards:

Winner Fiction Years 7-9
Morris Gleitzman After Publisher - Viking (Penguin) 2012
Winner Fiction Younger Readers
Emily Rodda The Golden Door Publisher - Omnibus Books, 2011
Winner Fiction Older Readers
Andy Griffiths & Terry Denton The 26-Storey Treehouse Publisher - Pan Macmillan, 2012
Winner Picture Storybooks
Carol Chataway & Nina Rycroft Pooka Publisher - Working Title Press, 2012

Graham Davey Citation
The Very Grumpy Bear Nick Bland Publisher - Penguin, 2008

Of all the winners, alas, only Andy Griffiths was there to collect his award. Morris Gleitzman andCarol Chataway were sick. Emily Rodda sent a video acceptance speech.

And here's something I'd like to say: Andy Griffiths is a delightful man. I bought a copy of his newest book for Priyanka, my most enthusiastic book clubber, and got him to sign it, then asked for a photo with him for my students to enjoy. I don't think he will mind my showing it here.

And then he gave me some signed copies of his Schooling Around series, which has just been re-released with new covers. We do have the series, but the individual volumes keep going missing. The students will be delighted!

I also had my photo taken with Gabrielle Wang, whose book A Ghost In My Suitcase is being read by some of our students for Literature Circles, and who asked after Sweet, my talented student who did a manga version of a scene from her novel.

I was sitting next to Felice Arena, author of the Specky Magee series, and told him some of our students had studied the first book for Literature Circles. I don't know yet what they have in mind for their creative response, but he agreed that he would do an interview if they wanted one. We'll see how they go. I think they were playing around with a book trailer, but weren't too enthusiastic about it. 

Anyway, I thought they might enjoy seeing a picture of him with me, so here it is!

Also a delightful man and very funny. 

I also had a chance to chat with Oliver Phommavanh, a primary teacher and the author of some hilarious books about life in primary school, especially when you're growing up Thai. We saw him at the State Library a couple of years ago, and he could make a living as a stand-up comic, honestly! I didn't manage to get a picture with him, unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond our control. 

The ceremony included the amusing doodle thingie, where the kids get to do a Mr Squiggle, giving a few lines to authors or illustrators which they have to turn into a picture, which is then signed and put up in the school. This year's illustrators were Bruce Whatley and Felice Arena. I was very impressed at how well someone who isn't officially an illustrator could do the job. It was good fun for all.

There were student performances and then, after morning tea, we all sat down to sign. I was sitting next to my friend George Ivanoff, who has done seventy books in his time and is making a living from his writing. He tells me most education publishers have now gone to flat fee payments, not very good if you're counting on royalties. It was nice to be with him, anyway, and we were both kept busy. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Dymock's had brought some copies of Wolfborn and they actually sold some! I wouldn't have thought they could sell it to primary students, but there you are. The young women came and got me to sign their books and I gave them bookmarks(they were Crime Time bookmarks - if I'd known, I would have brought some Wolfborn ones as well). I even signed a copy of Your Cat Could Be A Spy! It was a library copy, but this means someone knew I would be there and sent a student with the book. How cool is that?

We were fed lunch as well and then George took me to Moorabbin station, from which I was able to catch a train to Glenhuntly and then a tram home. A nice day all round!