Oct 29

Shout Out – Children’s Book Bloggers

I was recently the feature blogger at the Newcastle Writes website. In several conversations since my profile was published, people have commented on the amount of time I volunteer to manage the Kids’ Book Review website. I head up a team of amazingly generous and knowledgeable contributors who also volunteer their time to the site, but my personal contribution is probably in excess of the 25-30 hours I quoted in the profile, especially when you factor in reading time, research and sourcing content for the site.

Like most bloggers, I fit my online commitments in around my other responsibilities and I receive very little financial compensation for my efforts. I choose to commit my time to running Kids’ Book Review because I am passionate about highlighting wonderful books for kids and teens and promoting amazingly talented authors and illustrators. I love to talk about books and the children’s/YA publishing industry and running KBR means that I am constantly engaged in conversations with parents, teachers, writers, illustrators, publishers and librarians who share my interest in this topic.

I’m hardly an anomaly within the Australian book blogging community, however. There are many children’s book bloggers who tirelessly share their knowledge and experience with others, review books, promote authors and children’s book events, share classroom and teaching tips related to children’s books, and generally put in a huge amount of time and effort for no compensation other than the warm fuzzy feeling of knowing that they have made a positive contribution to an industry which they passionately believe in.

I don’t think most people realise just how much time this takes, so in the interest of giving a great big virtual pat on the bag and a heartfelt THANK YOU!!! to these wonderful bloggers, I thought I would share links to some of their blogs and websites here. Bookmark these sites and return to them regularly. They are a treasure trove of information for parents, teachers, writers and anyone interested in children’s literature. There are, of course, also a huge number of authors who share writing tips and resources for the benefit of other writers, and I’ll create a separate shout out list of those in the near future.

 

Kids' Book Review

Kids’ Book ReviewTania McCartney, Susan Whelan, Anouska Jones, Jo Burnell, Sarah Steed, Coral Vass, Anastasia Gonis, Georgia Kartas and Connie Spanos

Reviews of books for toddlers to teens, interviews, guest posts, event and award updates, giveaways, blog tours, resources for parents and teachers.

 

The Book Chook

The Book Chook – Susan Stephenson

Book reviews, resources, tips for parents and teachers.

 

Children’s Books Daily – Megan Daley

Book reviews, tips for parents, reading activities, encouragement and tips on how to create wonderful book and reading memories with young children.

 

Honey Bee Books

Honey Bee Books – Melissa Squire

Book reviews and related activities for young readers.

 

Alphabet Soup – Rebecca Newman

Articles, tips, reviews and resources for kids who love books and creative writing.

 

My Little Bookcase – Jackie Small

Reviews, resources, literary activities and advice on how to build a love of reading and writing in young children.

 

 

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Oct 22

Midweek Music: Truly Brave

This mash-up by Cyndi Lauper and Sara Bareilles is such a beautiful tribute to children who suffer with cancer and other debilitating health issues. They lose so much of their childhood while they lay in hospital beds receiving treatment.

Truly Brave is a combination of Lauper’s True Colours and Bareilles’ Brave. It has been used as part of Hoda Kotb’s crowdrise funding efforts for the American Cancer Society focusing on paediatric cancer research. The video features young cancer patients from the The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

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Oct 15

Midweek Music: Hymn to Her

I can remember when Hymn to Her was first released by The Pretenders back in 1986. I stumbled across this cover of the song thanks to my friend Cathy (from Most of us Need the Eggs) sharing it on Facebook recently. I think these five voices combine to create something quite beautiful.

This version of Hymn to Her is taken from the album Songs that Made Me by Katie Noonan and features Katie Noonan, Kylie Auldist, Angie Hart, Deborah Conway and Ainslie Wilis.

If you would like to compare with the original, here is the music video featuring Chrissie Hynde and The Pretenders.

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Oct 10

World’s Most Inept Fangirl

Last weekend I attended the National Young Writers Festival in Newcastle. I had various family commitments over the weekend, so I was only able to get to two sessions on the Sunday, both related to writing for children and teens. You can read my overview of the sessions here.

One of my motivations for attending the sessions that I did was to meet up with three authors whose books I have read and enjoyed and who I have traded emails and tweets with. Social media provides wonderful opportunities to connect with authors and other creatives and sometimes it comes as a little bit of a shock to realise that I have never actually met some of the authors I have been chatting with via Twitter and Facebook.

On Sunday, I was delighted to have the opportunity to meet up with Melissa Keil, Kylie Fornasier and Wai Chim after their panel sessions at the festival. They were all just as lovely in person as they are online and I enjoyed my conversations with all three about various bookish topics.

Melissa, Kylie and Wai probably don’t realise it, but I had copies of their books in my bag all day. Not only that, but I had two cameras (a compact camera and a DSLR) in my bag as well as my phone, all of which were more than capable of taking photos. (It’s worth noting that I had a collection of cameras with me because in between sessions at the writers’ festival, I went on a Heritage steam train trip with my children, where I took numerous photos. I’m a fangirl, not undercover paparazzo).

So how many signatures did I get in my books? How many selfies with my author friends? Um, well, the answer would be none.

No signature in Melissa Keil’s wonderfully entertaining YA novel The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl.

Melissa Keil book 2

No signature in Kylie Fornasier’s YA historical fiction Masquerade, a romantic mystery novel set during Carnevale in Venice in the 18th century.

Kylie Fornasier book

No signature in either of Wai Chim’s junior fiction Chook Chook novels (I have two of the three books in the series).

Wai Chim books

And no photos.

This isn’t the first time this has happened. I’ve met many authors over the past few years, including quite a few in recent months. I attended the Kids’ & YA Festival at the NSW Writers’ Centre a few months ago and came home with, you guessed it, not a single photo of me with any of the authors I chatted with that day and not a single signature in any of the books I took with me for authors to sign.

I’m not sure why I don’t just pull out my phone and take a selfie. Goodness knows plenty of other people do it. I don’t think it’s so much about being shy or self-conscious as it is about not wanting to look like a groupie. Often it’s just that I’m enjoying the conversation so much that I don’t think of it, in the same way I don’t think of taking a selfie with my friends when we go out for coffee.

Maybe I subconsciously don’t want to ruin any chance I have of them thinking of me as a writer, rather than a fan.

Ironically, I’m already looking forward to signing my book for family, friends, other writers, and random strangers when it comes out next year. I certainly wouldn’t be bothered if someone put a copy of the table while we shared morning tea and asked if I would sign it for them. I’d actually be rather pleased.

Am I the only person out there who feels awkward asking celebrities (whether it be authors, actors, musicians, athletes or any other profession) for a photo and autograph? If you’re a writer, how do you feel about people asking for photos and autographs? Do you ask for them if you meet another writer?

I’m attending another writers’ festival in early November, so I’m keen for any tips on how I can overcome my reluctance to let my inner fangirl out.

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Oct 02

Books, Words, Conversations and Remembering Why I Blog

Taking some time out for a cup of tea and a good bookYesterday I had several conversations about books and writing.

 

I had a wonderful visit to MacLean’s, my local independent bookstore, where I chatted picture books and YA fiction with the owner for quite a while, as well as taking in two picture books (Engibear and Peter’s Railway) to show the staff should they have any budding young engineers or train enthusiasts come in looking for a recommendation.

 

(As a side note, Miss13 was not impressed that I was taking books TO a bookstore. “Are you really going to tell them how to do their job? Don’t you realise that most people buy books at a bookshop, they don’t take books with them when they go?”)

 

I chatted with several people on Twitter about books and writing, with some conversations sparked by this brilliant response by Ellie Marney to the recent spate of anti-YA fiction opinion pieces published in the US and Australia (if you want to read the negative pieces, Ellie includes links in her response). James Roy also wrote an excellent response to the YA-haters a little while ago.

 

I had an interesting conversation with Miss13 about books (once she recovered from the embarrassment of a mother who doesn’t know how bookshops work), which resulted in her gathering a few books to add to her reading pile, including The Jewel by Amy Ewing, Every Word by Ellie Marney and The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.

 

I chatted with a few authors on Twitter about upcoming titles, new releases and overseas releases of their current novels and I’ve worked on various bookish online commitments including Kids’ Book Review and local writing groups.

 

I also read several articles about current social and political issues, although I haven’t had time to weigh in on the conversations.

 

Through it all, I realised just how much I love having conversations about these things that are important to me – books and reading, encouraging and connecting with other writers, learning about the issues that are impacting my community and my world. Reading, thinking, communicating.

 

I’ve struggled to post here for some timely, largely because I couldn’t find any sense of focus. I couldn’t see any point in posting another fluffy, filler post or, worse, jumping on the click-bait bandwagon of the latest hot topic or social media debate?

 

Yesterday reminded me what I love about being part of the online community – the sense of connection, conversation and exchange of ideas – and how much I simply love to talk about books and writing. For me, this blog is the place where I can meet friends and start conversations. It has been neglected for a while, so it will take time for friends to realise that I’m home, but hopefully once they do, they’ll call in for a virtual cuppa and a chat.

 

If you enjoy chatting about the same things – books, writing, words, social issues and current affairs – please say hello, call in regularly and join the conversation. I’m going to look a bit silly if I sit here talking to myself and I can only take so many lectures from Miss13 on my inappropriate behaviour.

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Sep 29

Midweek Music: Root Beer Rag by Billy Joel

Image Source

Image Source

This song never fails to make me smile. A friend and his son played it as a duet at a friend’s wedding and it was just the most joyful thing – smiles all around from the performers and the audience. My daughter has been learning to play it on the piano and I have loved listening to her practise and grow in confidence and ability over the past few months.

 

Of course, the best way to listen to the song is when it is performed is by Billy Joel himself. First from 1978

 

 

and then from 2013, a little slower but still lightyears ahead of anything I could achieve.

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Sep 25

Banned Book Week 2014 – Are there any books banned in your home?

BooksIt’s Banned Books Week in the US from 21-27 September 2014.

As I do every year when I see the banned book updates and comments, I can’t help but wonder why people put so much energy into drawing attention to the books they don’t want other people to read.

“Hey everyone. Look over here. Look at this book. Now, DON’T LOOK. It’s awful and divisive and inappropriate and reading it will definitely rip apart the fabric of reality as we know it. DON’T LOOK AT THE BOOK! Which book? This one!”

An alternative would be perhaps “Hey everyone. Look over here. Look at this book. It’s fantastic and I really enjoyed it and I think you’d love it if you read it. You really should read it. Which book? This one!” What a novel idea (pun intended) – why not recommend the books you enjoy and want others to read instead of putting so much energy into pointing out the books you don’t like and don’t agree with.

Don’t get me wrong, stories that glorify child abuse, promote racism and inequality, degrade women and incite violence are not stories I want in my home or in my mind or, more importantly, in the minds of my children. I guess I’d prefer that people talk with me reasonably about what they think I should be reading, rather than forbidding me from looking at what they think I shouldn’t be reading.

It’s worth pointing that this philosophy doesn’t mean that I think children and young teens should have access to whatever books they choose without some screening by parents or other adults. My 13-year-old daughter recently grabbed a copy of Stephen King’s It off my bookshelf and started reading it, only to be told to return it to the shelf. She’s read The Hunger Games and various other dystopian novels, so it isn’t a matter of trying to keep her away from stories that have confronting scenes or imagery. It’s simply because I can remember reading It in my late teens and to this day, more than two decades later, I still hesitate occasionally as I step off the curb near a drain, just for a fraction of a second. Clowns freak me out too, but I’m not going to lay the blame for that entirely at the feet of Stephen King.

While I might be temporarily limiting my daughter’s access to some books given her age and my knowledge of her temperament, I’m not banning the book from our home and I’m not insisting that it isn’t suitable for other people to read or even for her to read at some future date. It is a work of adult fiction, so it makes sense to restrict access for younger readers, but adults can make their own choice about what is and isn’t suitable without me making it for them. You want to be freaked out by clowns and monsters lurking in the drainways channelling underneath your town? Knock yourself out. It is the book for you.

I’ll admit that I do get a few chuckles each year from reading the reasons given for some books being banned. Some, such as Nabokov’s Lolita, are hardly surprising, while with some others, particularly children’s picture books and junior novels, you have to wonder how much time people invested in coming up with their reason to remove the book from school and library shelves. After reading through this Buzzfeed list of banned children’s books I was fascinated to discover a subtext to Dr Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham that I missed completely in my numerous readings of the book (namely homosexual seduction and early Marxism) and a topless bather in a Where’s Wally/Waldo book that we all know we would never be able to find even if we did go looking for it. You can find a list of frequently challenged classics here.

After the laughter dies away, however, I simply end up feeling rather sad and frustrated that in this modern day, we are still wasting time banning books instead of having discussions about issues and topics. It is ridiculous there are still people who believe they have the right to choose what ideas, information, stories and words I can have access to. Sadly, these people don’t limit this to taking books off library shelves.

Books are a wonderful way to encounter new ideas, new people and new situations that you might not deal with in your everyday life. They entertain, of course, but they also educate and challenge. Sometimes the help us to see a better way of thinking and sometimes they help us to see the dangers in certain ideas and practices. While we jokingly have a few ‘banned’ items in our home – crocs, Justin Bieber music, chewing gum – I hope that my monitoring of my children’s reading material is more a case of ensuring that they are accessing books that they can enjoy and relate to rather than stopping them from reading books simply because I don’t approve.

Do you restrict which books your teenagers have access to? What reasons do you give if you do? I’d love to know how others handle this situation.

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Sep 03

Midweek Music: 2 Cellos – Thunderstruck

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Image Source

I love to see people who play well have fun with music. I’ve been a fan of the The Piano Guys for some time and love the way they perform.

 

I was delighted to stumble across this 2 Cellos clip on Facebook recently. I loved the clip and then enjoyed playing it for my children and seeing their eyes widen in recognition when they realised what song the duet was morphing into.

 

 

So, today we kick off the week with some classic(al) rock.

 

 

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Aug 25

Monday Music: Newcastle HSC Music Students

Each Monday, I want to share something musical – a classic music video, something new I’ve stumbled upon, or some musical news that I’ve heard recently.

 

For my first post, I’d like to share the link to a series of profiles run by our local ABC radio station recently, highlighting local Newcastle HSC music students. The students all attend the Hunter School of Performing Arts.

 

I tuned in to hear Sophie Davis perform Still Hurting on Thursday and then went to the ABC Newcastle website to listen to the other students who had been profiled during the week. I hope that these amazing young people were as encouraged by this experience as I was hearing them talk about what they love about music and performing. I had several friends who studied music for their HSC and I played the flute for 3 different HSC performances for other students. I know how much work and dedication (and how much stress) is involved in getting performances pieces ready for the final examinations. I wish these students every success with their HSC and beyond.

 

You can find soundcloud links for all of the profiled students as well as photos of their performances in the ABC studio here. Thank you ABC Newcastle for this wonderful series. I look forward to hearing similar profiles for music students from our region again next year.

 

 

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Jul 31

Reading List: Israeli Palestinian Conflict

Empathizing with Gaza does NOT make me anti-Semitic, nor pro-Hamas or anti-Israel. It makes me human. David Harris-Gershon (@David_EHG)

Over the past two weeks, I have struggled with my own ignorance about the Gaza conflict. My attempts to read news reports have left me frustrated with the obvious bias of the media and annoyed that my own knowledge of the situation is so limited.

My heart and mind ache for the people of both Israel and Palestine, particularly the everyday people whose lives are endangered by the fighting and those parents who watch their sons go off to fight in battles from which they may not return.

I feel particular concern for the Palestinians, for all they have lost and for the parents who must find it so incredibly hard to raise their children with any sense of hope for the future. Their situation seems so bleak and forbidding and I can only imagine their mourning at all they have lost of their heritage and independence.

Yet, it seems incredibly arrogant on my part to identify with one side or the other. There are certainly reasons to feel sympathy and concern for all those whose lives have been impacted by the fighting. I think that is why I connected with the quote above so strongly. I am not pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian, pro-Hamas or anti-Semitic. I don’t want to learn more about this conflict because I think it will make it easier for me to choose sides or assign blame, but rather because I think that being better informed is the least I can do to show respect to those whose lives are impacted directly by this situation.

As I have sought to understand the Gaza conflict this week (a mammoth undertaking, I know), I have been gathering links to news articles, websites and other sources. I have included them below for anyone who is interested. I have read some and have bookmarked others to read soon. I have tended towards information aimed at those with little background knowledge and away from intense political discourse, which is particularly evident in the book titles listed.

I would like to offer my thanks to author Randa Abdel-Fattah who has been very generous with her time in supplying me with several of the references mentioned below. Randa is a passionate advocate for the Palestinian people, but she went out of her way to provide me with references to Israeli and Jewish references as well as Palestinian sources.

The link to this video is included below, but I found it a useful overview before reading other information.

WEBSITES
Mondoweiss – a news website devoted to covering American foreign policy in the Middle East, chiefly from a progressive Jewish perspective.

B’Tselem – The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.

Global Policy Forum –  Independant policy watchdog monitoring the work of the United Nations and scrutinizing global policymaking. The page on Israel, Palestine and the Occupied Territories includes several links to further information including details of UN resolutions related to the conflict.

Middle East Research and Information Project – aims to provide information and analysis on the Middle East suitable for reference by journalists.

MEDIA
ABC The Drum – It’s about time Australian put pressure on Israel by Ben Saul

New Matilda – Israel’s Bloody Apartheid: What Happened And Why You Should Be Outraged by Michael Brull

Sydney Morning Herald – How language changes views of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over Gaza by Randa Abdel-Fattah

The Lancet – Open letter for the people in Gaza by doctors and scientists (24 signatories)

The New Yorker – Israel’s Other War by Etgar Keret

New Matilda – Two Jews, Two Palestinians: An Open Letter on the Simple Truth by Michael Brull, Samah Sabawi, Peter Slezak and Randa Abdel-Fattah

Daily Kos – Empathizing with Gaza does NOT make me anti-Semitic, nor pro-Hamas or anti-Israel. It makes me human by David Harris-Gershon

ABC Religion and Ethics website – Not in My Name: Response to Alex Ryvchin by Michael Brull

MISC
NGOs letter to the Attorney General of Israel regarding Offensive policy in Gaza in Operation Protective Edge

Jews for Justice booklet – Origin of the Palestine/Israel Conflict

David Byrne website – Gaza and the Loss of Civilisation: Letters by Brian Eno and Peter Schwartz

The Promise mini-series directed by Peter Kosminsky.
ABC The Drum article by Larry Stillman about controversy surrounding the screening of the mini-series on SBS

COMMENTATORS (Wikipedia profile links provided)
Ilan Pappé – Israeli historian and social activist
Gideon Levy – Israeli journalist
Jonathan Cook – freelance journalist
Ben White – journalist and activist

VIDEOS
James Longley documentary – Gaza Strip

#PrayForGaza video

BOOKS – Non-Fiction
Cry Palestine – Said Aburish
Palestine Inside Out – Saree Makdisi
Sharon and My Mother-in-Law (Ramallah Diaries) – Suad Amiry
Strangers in the House: Coming of Age in Occupied Palestine – Raja Shehadeh
Extreme Rambling: Walking Israel’s Separation Barrier. For Fun. – Mark Thomas

BOOKS – Fiction
Where the Streets Had a Name – Randa Abdel-Fattah
Before We Say Goodbye – Gabriella Ambrosio

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