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Travelling through 2018.

The year started with workshops at the Brisbane City Council libraries as part of their fabulous Summer Reading Program.

The Lion in our Living Room felt right at home with their ‘Go Wild with Summer Reading,’ theme.

It was a great opportunity to meet many young readers, as well as a chance to see some of the other workshops and performances that featured in the program.

These photos were taken at The Brisbane Square Library on January 10th.      

 

 

 

At this point I decided to make the most of my theatrical backgrounded and turn my presentation into a fully-fledged performance, with specially composed music, and a greater level of audience participation.

I put my head down and after quite a few weeks of writing and composing I had a 35 minute children’s performance ready to go.

During this time I had a few book signings at our wonderfully supportive local bookshops, Annie’s Books on Peregian and Sandy Pages Bookshop in Coolum Beach. I really appreciate these opportunities to talk to children and their parents, and to share my books with them.

 

  

During a book signing at Written Dimensions, I was fortunate to meet a Story Dog team. Story Dogs assist children with early literacy by providing a non-threatening and enthusiastic canine friend to read to in school. I hope to be able to work with Story Dogs in the future.


I seem to have a lot of dogs in my life as our family are part-time foster careers of Smart Pups, assistance dogs in training.


‘Romancing The Stars,’ a speed dating children’s literacy event, was held on February 23rd where I was a participating author. It was a lovely informal night where I got to meet many other children’s authors and hear directly from them about their stories and beliefs.

During this time, the team extraordinaire at Affirm Press were preparing our next picture book, The Bear in our Backyard for print. Here is a little peek of Briony Stewart’s gorgeous illustrations.

I count my lucky stars that I get to work with the phenomenally talented editors at Affirm Press, Davina Bell and Clair Hume, and see the beautiful books they produce such as The Silver Sea by Alison Lester and Jane Godwin with the children at the Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne.

It was also exciting seeing The Lion in our Living Room being shared in schools by teachers using the teaching notes provided by Lamont Books and the Australian Standing Orders.

Finally I got to share my new performance based around the characters in The Lion in our Living Room with children. It was enormous fun, and so rewarding to see the children’s delight. I was thrilled with their level of involvement and I wish I could show you all their little faces!

The Lion in our Living Room was included on the reading list for International Read to Me Day. This is a day where authors assist in reaching the goal of each child having a book read to them everyday. I presented to the very enthusiastic students at the Cooroy State School on March 19th.

Now, it is just two days before the release of my new picture book, The Bear in our Backyard, a special celebration of mums and the small and magical moments they create each day.

I painted a new backdrop for my ‘Bear,’ performances and I can’t wait to share my first presentation in two days time!

Dads and ‘The Lion in our Living Room’

It has been a wonderful experience meeting so many fathers and witnessing their response to The Lion in our Living Room; a book that celebrates fathers, their involvement with their children, the games they play, and the quiet moments spent together. The mighty lion is of course, really dad.

Many fathers can relate to the boisterous games depicted in the book; lion rides, piggybacks and hide and seek. At the same time, they respond to the image of the father reading to his children late at night. One father proudly told me, ‘That’s just like me, I’m the one who reads to our kids at night,’ and I am glad to say that I have heard this comment on numerous occasions. In fact, recent research shows that the benefits of fathers reading to their children are even higher than hearing their mother’s voice read, for reasons that we don’t yet understand. Perhaps it is simply the contrast or the deeper tone?

Of course, The Lion in our Living Room pays homage to my father and the interactions I observed with my own children. A particular story comes to mind, where they would set up imaginary scenarios and wait with nervous anticipation at the door for an exciting visitor. The visitor wasn’t a lion, but this game spawned the initial idea for the story. I hope that by sharing The Lion in our Living Room, new generations are inspired to have lots of roaring fun with their daddy lion, cementing this invaluable bond and encouraging these games to continue in generations to come.

The Importance of Illustration in Picture Books

This was a guest post that I shared with Readilearn, a wonderful online site that provides teaching resources for the first three years of school.

readilearn: The importance of illustrations in Picture Books – A guest post by Emma Middleton

This week I have great pleasure in introducing you to Emma Middleton who is here to discuss illustrations in picture books as tools for analysis, enjoyment and interpretation.

Emma is a picture book author, illustrator, children’s performer and former ballerina who lives near Noosa, Queensland. After a career in performing arts, during which time she danced for the Vienna Ballet, she returned to Australia to direct and teach at The Brighton Dance Academy.

Emma retired from teaching dance to follow her passion for picture books by creating stories that will enhance a child’s sense of wonder, delight and unlimited possibility. Emma is the author of companion picture books The Lion in our Living Room and The Bear in our Backyard.

Welcome to readilearn, Emma. Over to you.

Illustrations in picture books can be an excellent tool for developing children’s analytical and interpretative skills, as well as enhancing their enjoyment of art. Picture book advocate Megan Daley says, ‘Picture books are works of art which should adorn the walls of art galleries and libraries.’

For young children, illustrated books open the door to understanding story. Illustrations provide young readers with an immediate vision of the characters, setting, and mood of the story. Children instantly respond to characters from their visual appeal. We all know and love many picture book characters from their image alone.

The first introduction to decoding words and story comes from interpreting the visual narrative. Picture books are especially helpful in this process, particularly in books where the illustrations play a vital part in the storytelling. Stories that rely on the images to complete the narrative, encourage active interpretation and engagement.

It is hugely enjoyable for children to discover clues in the illustrations that inform them of vital elements in the story. This is particularly apparent in the case of the unreliable narrator. Immediately, children set out to discover the clues within the illustrations.

There are many examples of the unreliable narrator in picture books. In John Klassen’s I Want My Hat Back, the reader needs to solve the dissonance between words and pictures. This is a brilliant tool for developing theory of mind.

In, The Lion in our Living Room, by Emma Middleton and Briony Stewart, many questions are raised within the text. The first page begins with Tom and Tilly’s dad saying, ‘Be careful at the door… you never know who might come knocking with his giant paw.’

Immediately, the young reader searches for clues to discover the identity of the mystery guest. We hear that it will be a paw, (and not a hand) that might come knocking, and although a lion is not mentioned specifically, there are many lion clues referenced in the illustrations.

This includes the lion toy, the lion-shaped stained glass window, the lion in dad’s newspaper, and most importantly, the lion mask on the floor. These references continue throughout the book, much to the continued delight of the children.

As we turn the page the refrain asks,

‘Will he come? Won’t he come? Will he come and play?

Will the mighty lion come and play with us today?’

Simultaneously, the children see the giant paw of the lion stepping through the long grass that is speckled with dandelion flowers. The illustrations answer the question…Yes, the lion is coming to play.

As the story continues, anticipation builds over the lion’s arrival.

After dad goes for a nap, visual clues are seen in the form of shadows that reveal the silhouette of a lion, another clever device that is used to help tell the story.

 

Young readers are excited and empowered to discover these clues for themselves. They become active participants in decoding the story. Perhaps to our surprise the illustrations also show the twist in this story, when it is revealed that it was in fact, dad pretending to be the lion. In subsequent re-readings children gain further confidence from their acquired knowledge of the story arc.

 

In the companion book The Bear in our Backyard, similar visual clues provide answers to the mystery around the bear. Children are keen observers of visual detail such as the muddy ‘paw prints,’ and the bear-shaped hedge.

 

The reader observes further links such as the similarity between the bear’s dressing gown and mum’s dressing gown.

As we discover that Tom and Tilly’s mum is about to have a baby, we see that her tummy was hidden throughout the story to save this revelation until the end.

As mum waves goodbye to her children her shadow brilliantly makes the shape of a big mummy bear.

The text continues this theme with images of ‘mummy bear hugs’ and ‘baby bears.’

 

The colour and tone of picture book illustrations also serve to set the emotional mood. In The Fix-It Man written by Dimity Powell and illustrated by Nicky Johnston, colour beautifully expresses the most challenging of moments when the child’s mother passes away.

Within this beautifully written story, we see the sunny yellow sky turn to a wordless page featuring a sombre grey room filled with love, tenderness and loss. Only the light from the moon shines in on the memories of the child’s mother, represented by her rainbow mobile and checkered rug.

In the final spread, their hearts are mending as the full colour spectrum has returned to the precious items that belonged to Mama.

Picture books are a truly unique genre. They rely on the visual narrative as an essential ingredient of storytelling. This makes them a perfect medium for children’s first relationships and enjoyment of story and art.

 

Emma, thank you for sharing with us these wonderful thoughts about illustrations in picture books. There is far more to it than initially meets the eye. As adults, we can become reliant on the text for meaning but, as you’ve shown us, so much of the story is told through the illustrations.

 

 

Why I use puppetry in my storytelling.

Storytelling and puppetry are almost magical for children. There is a tangible focus of attention when a puppet appears or when the page of a book is turned.

 

Children are in a unique phase of life where they can enter the realm of imagination with ease. Paint a picture, describe a scene, and suddenly they are right there with you. Puppets allow imaginative and logical thought to exist simultaneously and I believe this has enormous benefits on children’s creative development.

What is it about puppets that bring the magic of storytelling to life? When my bear puppet is moving and responding, (with each swish of fur as she nods in agreement) it is easy for children to believe she is alive. However at the same time, they know she is not. Often I am asked the question, ‘Is she real?’ I usually respond with,

‘She is a puppet, but sometimes she thinks she is real.’

Children can see she is ‘real’ in the sense that the puppet actually exists, however it is the power of their imaginations that allow them to believe she has a personality, emotions and a life force of her own. This is key to creativity. Children experience the power of their imaginations making something inanimate, come to life. I believe this can have a hugely positive flow-on effect throughout their life. If children are allowed to believe that their visions can manifest, they will feel empowered to create, whether it be putting a story down on paper, imagining a new scientific theory, or designing a new kitchen stool. As storytellers, we are fueling and empowering imaginations.

When I was little, I was forever being told that my huge creative plans were too difficult, not possible, too grand. However what my mum did not realise, was that her actions were painting the opposite picture. At every point she would be creating, designing and making, whether it be the dress she wanted for a function, the garden she designed, or the 40-meter bunting for the regatta. I constantly experienced the power of imagination and creativity becoming tangible.

Reverence is also crucial to the experience of storytelling with puppets. I treat my puppets with a similar care and respect that I would show to a real animal, stroking their foreheads softly and placing them gently on the ground. Why is this important? Reverence creates the atmosphere of respect. I am showing the children that creative time is valuable. I experience the puppets as if they were ‘real,’ and this gives the children permission to enter their imaginative world right by my side. In a world where practically and logic hold such a dominating presence, I believe there is great value in adults allowing children to fully experience their natural propensity for imaginative play. Furthermore, adults and children alike, are often swept away by the pure joy of the experience.

               

 

Mother’s Day and The Bear in our Backyard

With Mother’s Day just around the corner, and a recently released picture book that celebrates mothers, I put pen to paper on why I feel picture books make extra special gifts.

There are many reasons why picture books can make the perfect Mother’s Day gift, but two are particularly close to my heart.

Firstly, stories can express sentiments of love and appreciation in a way that is not possible for a young child to articulate. When a story about parents and their children is shared, an opportunity to reflect upon the special qualities of parental love is created.

As Shaye Wardrop says in her review of The Bear in our Backyard, ‘Part of a special game between child and parent, the bear is, of course, not really a bear.

This time it’s Mum who’s playing pretend, and she knows all the best games to play.

Bear can swing our skipping rope and hula hoop so fast.
We leap and twirl and whizzy whirl, then tumble down at last.

Middleton has once again delivered a gorgeous story that celebrates the special connection between children and their parents, and it’s all about mums in this loving tale.’ Stories can evoke emotions in unique and poignant ways.

While the parent reads the story, the child is absorbed in the illustrations and the visual narrative. Briony Stewart has created superb illustrations for The Bear in our Backyard, with meticulous detail, heavenly colour schemes and characters that radiate love and life.

Secondly, the very act of reading a picture book at the end of a long day creates a loving and focused time to spend together. Within these minutes of the day, parent and child are often snuggled together, absorbed in their shared experience. This may be the only real time of the day when there are no interruptions, a peaceful atmosphere and time for undivided attention. A perfect time to feel the bond of parental love and create memories that last a lifetime.

Wardrop says about The Bear in our Backyard, ‘With rhythmic rhyme flowing throughout, this is a perfect book for bedtime snuggles.’

The Bear in our Backyard is published by Affirm Press (April 2018)

Symbolism, Picture Books and The Dream Bird

Symbolism has always played a huge role in literature and art and continues to contribute to the depth and significance of children’s picture books. I would like to share some of my thoughts behind the symbols and colours that I chose in illustrating Aleesah Darlison’s beautiful bedtime story, The Dream Bird.

 

 

Firstly, I wanted to choose two distinctive colour palettes that represented the contrast between the hours when George is awake, and the period of time when George is trying to sleep. I chose a sunlit sky blue for the scenes where George is up and about, and a crimson tone to represent Gran’s warmth and comforting cuddles, as she helps George go to sleep.

 

 

The light crimson of Gran’s room and dressing gown, is meaningful for a second reason. It is the same colour as the Dream Bird’s crimson and gold tipped tail feathers. This is the first clue that shows us that Gran is the magical Dream Bird. As we look closer at Gran, we see elegant bird patterns adorn her gown and her room is decorated with long feathers in a vase. As the vision of the dream bird appears, at first very faint and then more clearly, she mirrors the posture of Gran gently leaning over George’s bed.

 

 

As George drifts off to sleep, the distinctions between reality and dreamland become blurred. Transparent wisps of light, floating feathers, and soft snowflakes drift around George. His bedsheets seemingly melt into fantasy, as the flowing cloth liquefies into the blue of the ocean.

 

 

Gran tells George how the Dream Bird whispers, ‘Sweet Dreams, beautiful child,’ before soaring away through the sky.

On the final page, surrounded in gentle light, Gran kisses George on the forehead. A single feather is suspended on the bedsheet as Gran whispers the exact words spoken by the Dream Bird, ‘Sweet dreams, beautiful child.’

 

 

I hope every child can drift off into sweet dreams with the gentle imagery, and beautiful story, of The Dream Bird.

 

Sharing ‘Ella Saw The Tree’ by Robert Vescio

Today, children are bombarded with so many distractions in life i.e. television and video games that they can lose focus on what is really important. I wrote Ella Saw The Tree to encourage children to slow down and appreciate their surroundings. With this book, I’m hoping children will be open to explore as they learn about their world.

Ella Saw The Tree is an entertaining story about mindfulness and living in the moment. It teaches a simple but important lesson. By taking a moment to slow down and really appreciate your surroundings even the simple things can be surprising and fun.

 One windy day, as Ella is swinging, she is showered by leaves. When she looks up, Ella sees a tree in her backyard … has it always been there? And why is it crying? It’s not until Ella carefully and attentively takes the time to – smell, listen, feel and look – that she discovers the tree in her backyard, as if for the very first time. By slowing down and experiencing new sensations, Ella learns to appreciate the simple things in life.

 We often tell our children to ‘pay attention’ but we don’t often teach children HOW to pay attention. This story does that in a fun way. By taking information from all their senses, children are able to explore as they learn about their world. This is what mindfulness is about, ‘sensing’ what’s happening not thinking. It helps them notice their feelings before making a decision – a way of caring for yourself. Mindfulness can increase happiness in a child’s life.

For example, a child walking through the bush is able to explore all the wonders around them i.e. trees and leaves etc. Everything is a new experience, full of discovery, fresh with a beginner’s mind.

Mindfulness is about training yourself to pay attention in a specific way. We spend so much time thinking over stuff that happens, or worrying about things that might happen in the future, that often we forget to appreciate or enjoy the moment. Mindfulness is a way of bringing us back to experience life as it happens.

 Mindfulness can help treat people with anxiety and depression. When a person is mindful they are focused on the present moment, not worrying about anything that went on in the past or that might be coming up in the future, concentrating on what’s happening around them and to them and not being judgemental about anything they notice.

When you’re mindful it gives you a clear head, slows down your nervous system, lets you relax and helps you cope with stress.

Ella Saw The Tree will delight all readers. Teachers and parents alike can use this story as a starting point for discussing the concept of engaging all senses and being mindful of the little things in life.

For children, reading this book will open new perspectives on the world and being present in the moment. This is a great book to be shared with children of all ages.

Ella Saw The Tree is available now from Big Sky Publishing:

http://www.bigskypublishing.com.au/Books/Children/Ella-Saw-the-Tree-HB/1172/productview.aspx

Book Review ‘Hello Rainbow’

hello_rainbowRhonda Brown has perfectly captured the joy of colours and colour mixing in her lovely picture book ‘Hello Rainbow.’ Children are naturally drawn to colours and Rhonda has brought them to life with her fun rhyming text. The book begins with a description of coloured objects, and Trevor Salter has cleverly enhanced the text with amusing pictorial anecdotes on every page.

Two colours are then brought together, and through colour mixing, they produce the secondary colours.

‘Blue yellow

Yellow blue

Mix the two in a blue-yellow brew…

Green!’

Again, this is depicted in a fun child-centric manner.

Finally, the colour mixing is complete and a beautiful rainbow is formed. The rhyme, amusing illustrations, and the educational element of colour mixing in this book will make it a favourite with children and teachers alike.

‘Hello Rainbow,’ is published by Oombee Woombee Books.

www.oombeewoombeebooks.com.au

The Inspiring, Insightful and Entertaining Janeen Brian.

Janeen Brian’s enthusiasm for children’s literature is contagious. Today I had the pleasure of meeting Janeen at the Noosa Library, as part of the First 5 Forever program.image-2

The large crowd of children were engrossed with her fun-filled story, “I’m a Dirty Dinosaur.” Together the children got to, “sniff and snuff about… shake about the place… tap… stamp,” and slide in the “mud!” The parents were delighted that all this excitement happened without any of the children getting dirty at all!

image-1I was particularly fascinated to learn about the illustrations for, “I’m A Dirty Dinosaur.” The wonderfully talented Ann James had in fact, used actual mud to paint the mud scenes. The effects she has created have quite a textural beauty with leaf prints, brush and line work, scratch reveal and the irresistibly fun splatter technique.

Janeen went on to describe how in her following book, “I’m a Hungry Dinosaur,” she once spotted a curious child testing if the sprinkles and chocolate overlaid in the book were actually edible.image

While the children engaged in activities, Janeen talked further about her career as a writer and her passion for child development. As a young child she remembers with great sorrow the lack of books available to her. She recalled crying at the conclusion of, “Ping The Duck,” as she feared it would be the last book ever read to her as a young child.

It is this innate longing children have for stories, and the multitude of benefits that flow from them, that has spawned the First 5 Forever program. This program recognises the developmental benefits towards self-esteem, communication, learning preparedness, imagination, and bonding that children derive from having books and stories read to them – particularly in their most receptive first five years.

Janeen’s book, “I’m a Dirty Dinosaur,” has been chosen as one of the books in this program, as well as winning the accolade of Speech Pathology Book of the Year in 2014.

Janeen spoke of her life experiences that led her to her love of rhyme, rhythm, and meter. She spoke of the wonderfully rewarding moment when the rhythm, pulse, resonance and pattern of a piece is absolutely right.image-1

Janeen recalled how in her most recent novel, “Yong, The Journey of an Unworthy Son,” she urgently rang her publisher for a last minute edit when she decided the word, “he,” simply had to be removed from a sentence.

So a big thank you to Janeen Brian for her beautiful, rhyming, rollicking, and rhythmic words, that delight the young, and the young of heart.