Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Discovering the Future of Writing for Children in the Book Links Lecture in Children's Literature

I attended this Book Links lecture on 25 June at the State Library of Queensland.

She gave a high call for creators of picture books, quoting Junko Yokota who wrote in1993 that authentic fiction books are where "the author and illustrator are intimately familiar with the nuances of a culture."

Dr Robin Morrow gave an excellent overview of Australian children's literature and shared about her experience operating Australia's first children's book store. She also talked about Jella Lepman, a German journalist, author and translator who founded the International Youth Library in Munich.

She went on to speak about the right of every child to hear stories in their mother tongue. Her lecture was inspirational to teacher librarians and educators in her promotion of making book choices to expand the worldview of young readers. She is also passionate about the representation of disability in children's books, especially some of the less known conditions where children may feel very alone.

Indiginous literature received a lot of attention, as well as fiction about immigrants. Dr Morrow showed an example of multiculturalism in a board book, commenting that it is a recent development to see less anglo-centrism in children's picture books. This made me think of Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes by Mem Fox, which I have read to both of my children since they were babies.

I have been aware of the anglo-centrism in most genres of writing that I have ever read since I was a teenager. All three of my projects at present feature people who are not your typical white heroes. In Myra and the Magic Motorcycle, I encouraged my illustrator to make Myra part anglo part Australian aborigine, but her appearance is such that she could be of African or Hispanic descent, or even just an olive-skinned caucasian with a nice tan. This way she is relatable by all sorts of different children. In my yet-to-be-published fantasy series, the main character is from a divinely-ordained dark-skinned race.

Some books Dr Morrow mentioned that I am interested in reading are:
I've provided links to Booktopia or Goodreads above, but of course Dr Robin Morrow encourages everyone to buy from their local independent bookstore. These outlets need our support because they are not as susceptible to the big merchandising and big brands that take up so much shelf space in larger book outlets. Members of the audience lamented the large amounts of space taken up in book shops by Octonauts books, toys and merchandise.

For my series, Myra and the Magic Motorcycle, I feel that I am trying to bridge the gap between popular and worldview expanding children's literature. My writing is not up to the same CBCA standards that Dr Morrow is most passionate about, but I hope that it is as gripping and entertaining as it can be, and is fair in its treatment of people from all different walks of life. Ultimately I hope for this series to open doors for educators and parents to, in a fun way, discuss some of the wider social issues we are faced with in our world today.

You can read more about Dr Morrow's paper on Indigenous Languages in Some Australian Picture Books here.

Visit Amanda Greenslade's website for free school activities for the Australian National Curriculum

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Why write children’s books about social issues?

“Education should be about giving children a lifelong love of learning not pushing a political or social agenda.”—Unknown Commentor on ABC radio 612 Brisbane, Australia
Perhaps there is a good reason why there are not many children’s books that deal with social issues. Perhaps I am missing some unspoken feeling or rule that other children’s book authors know. Perhaps I am pretending to myself that I can write about social issues without taking a position that would alienate different groups of people.

My inspiration for writing Myra and the Magic Motorcycle came when I was in hospital about to give birth to my second son, Declan. Like any parent I want my children to get the most of life, to learn to take advantage of the opportunities that come their way without treading all over others.

At the time of releasing Myra book 1, my kids are both under 5, meaning they’re not specifically in the target market, but they do enjoy it when I read the book to them. I want my children to get to know about the world we live in, and some of the challenges faced by other people, possibly some things they themselves will have to deal with. My aim is not to overwhelm them or frighten them about these issues, but to give them a rudimentary introduction, and give them a mindset to think about the world around them and other people.

On my children’s bookshelves I see hundreds of books on a wide variety of topics, but there are huge gaps and imbalances in these topics. There are plenty of animals, trucks, pirates, super heroes, fairies and mythological creatures. Not so many books that feature human beings, and none that deal with social issues.

I love animals and fantasy. I am finalising the first book in my YA–Adult fantasy adventure series The Astor Chronicles, which is about people who can transform into animals. Up till I was about 15 I was bigoted about what books I would read. They had to be completely focused on animals, with no people in them at all. I, of all people, can understand and value the place for animals in children’s fiction. Yet, when I think about what children under 8 need now, it’s not another book about Paul the Penguin who got lost or Francis the Frog who forgot how to swim.

In Myra and the Magic Motorcycle I hope to tell stories about human issues, social challenges and the needs of other people around the world.

Regardless of what species the characters are, themes in children’s fiction tend to focus on sleeping, self esteem, families and growing up.  On Amazon and Booktopia there is not much in the category of social issues under ‘Juvenile Fiction’.

Books that do deal with human feelings, social interaction and conflict tend to be vague. Except for the occasional environmental or animal conservation message, world issues are non-existent.

Our children are growing up in a world full of frightening worldwide news and overwhelming volumes of information about people around them, yet there are very few children’s books or stories to help them cope and understand and contextualise this information.

My aim is not to push my own position in the Myra Books, although I cannot deny that I do have a position. Everyone does. I am someone who has had a good upbringing as a white middle class Australian. I am not a socialist, but I firmly stand by the belief that anyone can and should become aware of the social implications of their behaviour and of the wider issues that confront them and their particular culture, in this global age.

I value the rights of all to choose their own destiny and make their own informed choices.

My own relgious, political and social opinions aside, what I really want to achieve here is:
  1. an entertaining read on topics that are rarely visited, therefore interesting (not same old same old) and
  2. to let parents and teachers use the Myra books to instigate discussions, taking them into as much detail or in whatever direction they wish.
  3. Letting children investigate and explore their own position. I wish to promote a lifelong love of learning (I believe any book will help to do this), but also give children a foundation of thinking about others, and considering the wider context of people’s lives.
Far from needing to spare our children from social issues, I think we have a duty to prepare them.

Visit Amanda's Website to buy books and get free school activities