Curious Creatures in the Summer Reading Club

 

Blogging with the Sumer Reading Club has been a fabulous opportunity to connect with enthusiastic young readers and writers across Australia.

Created for children and young people pre-school age to 17, the Summer Reading Club is led by the State Library of Queensland and offers activities, competitions and online forums to inspire a love of libraries and reading.

I was honoured to be chosen as one of two guest bloggers along with Dr Cameron Stelzer to blog on the topic of Curious Creatures. This was the perfect springboard to discuss the intriguing aspects of reading and writing and the wealth of animals represented in children’s literature.

We explored the lion and bear characters in my picture books, ‘The Lion in our Living Room,’ and ‘The Bear in our Backyard,’ as well as the inspiration behind the stories. We discussed animal facts and observations, how other authors describe animals in their writing, what animals often symbolise, and we explored books that teach us how to assist animals in their natural environment. From fantastical creatures to having fun with alliteration and illustration, the topic of Curious Creatures provided a perfect springboard.

 

I was blown away by the enthusiasm of the children and their in-depth knowledge across the spectrum of children’s literature – their love of reading was palpable. One post alone received 127 responses! It was a unique opportunity to engage children over the long summer holidays, answer their questions about the writing process and how they can improve their skills.

 

Thank you to the amazing team at the State Library of Queensland, especially Natasha Ratajczec, who brilliantly masterminds the whole program. It was an honour to be involved and yet another example of the vital role that libraries play in our lives.

 

Now I have the impossible task of deciding who wins the prize pack!

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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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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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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.

 

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Why I Love Children’s Books

What is there not to love about children’s books? I have always been caught in their spell. As a child I would spend the holidays copying the pictures from my favourite books. Picture books offered me a world of creativity, imagination and unlimited possibility. This seed of inspiration has stayed with me for life.
As a young child I was so inspired by May Gibbs’ charming gum blossom babies, that I planted my very own flowering gum two metres from our back door. In my child’s mind I did not think to check the potential height of this tree, and ten years later, when the tree towered above our little house, it had to be cut down.
Perhaps I should have also taken more notice of the wicked Mrs. Snake, as it was through the same back door, that I once brought in a ‘beautiful’ snake I had found in the bushes to show mum. Her scream quickly showed me that she was not impressed.
 Now, as an adult I am extremely fortunate to once again dive into the world of children’s picture books. In 2011, I illustrated ‘Were You Still Dreaming Ruby?’ by Steve McGlaughlin. One of the many delights of this project was the opportunity to conduct book readings and craft activities with local children. We were warmly welcomed by bookstores including, Berkelouw’s Book Barn Eumundi, and The River Read, as well as local kindergartens. It was a joy to see the children’s creativity and imaginations come alive through story; the joy of children’s picture books for all generations.
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