2018: A Fun-Filled Year of Lions and Bears.

 

Looking back over the year I am touched by the recognition of how many children and creatives I have had the opportunity of meeting, and sharing experiences of our love of story and books.

It is an honour to walk together with children into the world of imagination. A world where there are vast possibilities that potentially transform. Surely that helps to give us hope for our future.

The empathy created in the minds of these young readers is paramount in our society where individual needs appear to dominate.

It has also been an enormous honour to work alongside such brilliant creative minds. My editors Davina Bell and Clair Hume spring to mind immediately, but no less important are all the writing buddies, the community of Kidlit creators, our SCBWI community, WriteLinks, the tirelessly hard-working bookshop owners, teachers and child care workers, who share the passion of nurturing young minds.

My family always wish to stay private from my social media presence, but they have to be acknowledged for putting up with me suddenly shouting, ‘I’ve just thought of a fantastic idea for a new picture book! What do you think about this..!’

So to everyone out there with a heart illuminated by the glow of words on the page and the inner-life of our characters, I wish you all a joyous and peaceful new year.

 

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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.

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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.

               

 

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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)

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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!

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