Keeping Books Alive Conference ( Hosted by the Greater City of Dandenong and Ford Street Publishing)
Dandenong Civic Centre
MC Kevin Burgemeister
'The Author, the Book and the Teacher'
Associate Professor Gary Crew ( Over 70 published works and numerous writing awards. Gary also launched his new book The Cuckoo)
The 2 stable things that exist in the changing literary scene are the creativity of authors and illustrators and the efforts of teachers and librarians.
As an author he continues to teach and likes to talk about the undercurrent of methodology for the writer. Authors need inspiration ( the act of breathing into) but there is a false notion that authors are 'adrift of the land'. It is naive to believe that authors have a muse whispering in their ear. Authors are continually reflecting and revisiting. Writers are not inspired by one bolt of inspiration. They are directed by thoughts and experiences.Gary discussed the need for research led practice- authors doing their homework. He also discussed practice led research ( trial and error)
Authors learn about their work as they write it. Children need to learn not to be 'bolters' ( This is difficult when they live in a world of immediacy.)Authors critique their own work all the time. So should children. ( Printing makes their writing look good. they need to step back from 'publishing' and spend more grunt time on their drafts.)
Stories are based on conflict.
Out of the conflict comes the narrative.
Writing is laborious but beautiful.
Cuniform 4000 BC is a tablet!
Scrolls date back to before 100 BC
The Guttenberg Bible was written in 1500.
Books were chained in libraries in the 1500s
The Horn Book 1600s
The paperback revolution in 1920s-30s
Kindle - another tablet 2000 AD
The beauty of the book as an artefact has to be let go of.
The Teacher ( Education: The act of leading out)
Gary talked about his discussions with James Maloney about writing and teaching.
Lewis Carroll said: 'A book ought to mean more than the writer meant...'
As teachers, what are we leading our student out of or what are we leading them into?
Teachers should ask themselves this.
Gary talked about Marina Warner's writing. Educators need to understand the value of what we take into the classroom.' At least they're reading' isn't good enough.
In a time when we can feel belittled we can feel it is not worth it. If we give up our huge and demanding role as teachers, where will the doctors, architects, lawyers , philosophers, poets come from?
Finally - if you want to be a writer you have to read a lot and write a lot.
We learn more often from bad writing than good writing.
Books enlarge our brain and heart, they enrich us.
During the book launch Gary talked about his early teaching career. He talked about the students he taught who were in his words often 'beyond the pale'. He talked about his pleasure in reading Australian versions of the fairy tale genre. His twist in his latest book 'The Cuckoo' was to empower the male hero rather than the 'princess'. He feels it could be used with boys in high school. it is written as a challenge for those boys.
'Keeping It Real'
Meredith Costain ( Books: My Life in the Wild and Dance Academy )
Narrative Non- Fiction
When children are asked to write non-fiction they often write fact reports but there are other kinds of non-fiction including narrative non fiction.
Meredith demonstrated how she might demonstrate a non- fiction narrative in the classroom by role-playing with children playing characters in the life of a cheetah ( refer photo below with a cheetah stalking gazelle) They can see that there is a story involved in the story of a cheetah.
Narratives need setting, characters, beginning/middle and end and plot ( They need a problem and resolution and not just events) like In her Animal Planet books
Meredith suggests that:
The kids need a dramatic entry to their story - Read to them some non-fiction text and list vocabulary words and verbs that they can use.( such as reading one of her Animal Planet books)
They also need a problem in their book to resolve.( drought, being separated from a herd,fighting a predator, encountering a hunter etc)
Consider writing in the first person.
She often uses a cloze activity format when working in schools with children to get them started.( refer photo below. Note the use of a simile.)
Meredith says children know a lot about animals already and it is remarkable what they can tell you.
Once they have finished the cloze activity the children can share their story. (refer photo)
In these narratives they still need to do the research.
They could also turn it into a diary using digital photos
They can also do an 'interview' or between the subject and an interviewer
or a newspaper story
or wanted poster
'eBooks for Children'
Tom Darby ( Book distributor for INT Books)
Tom helps to bring eBooks especially non-fiction eBooks into schools
Tom believes that children have trouble understanding that books can be a tool for the rest of their lives. We respond to the voice of the author. Non fiction writers write with a neutral voice which resonates better with boys in particular.
Non fiction in the first person hooks in young children from an early age.
Children's picture books in ePublishing don't work because of illustrations and font size. HTML5 introduces new agreed tags for interactivity which allows books to become apps and makes cloud systems available.This has revolutionised eBook accessibility over the last few years.
iPad technology enables us to download and use eBooks as required.Some FLASH animation in 'picture books' (which does not work in iPads) can be accessed on PCs and is used in eTextbooks like Targeting Maths. Australian print text books publishers have merged into Learning Field. Tom also recommended to me 'ReadingAustralia.com' which is currently working on abridged versions of Australian classics.)
Tom discussed the many frustrating issues effecting school libraries when purchasing and loaning out eBooks. He showed us the Big Universe program.
Leigh Hobbs ( author of Old Tom)
Leigh Hobbs was a bit manic but very enjoyable. he talked about how he came up with his characters. ( Old Tom, Horrible Harriet and Mr Chicken)
Leigh always wanted to be an artist and just wanted to go to England! His new book is called Mr Chicken Goes to London.He started as an illustrator but stopped just illustrating because he wanted to create his own characters. Old Tom was his first character.His books are character studies which usually have an issue somewhere.
Most of his characters are based on past students he taught.He wants to challenge the narrowness of ideas.He had a very suburban upbringing and inserts that background into his work and loves architecture. ( He was an art teacher for 20 years) He likes the idea of a picture saying one thing and the text saying something else.Leigh showed us a lot of his art work and the inspiration for it and evolution of it.He talked about his school visits and how he shows kids how to draw Old Tom.
He showed us how he encourages children to create their cartoon character and to be the 'boss' of their own character.
'iCreate digital tools'
Tristan Bancks (Two Wolves, My Life and Other Stuff That Went Wrong)
Tristan discussed his Story Scrapbook app ( which looks good)and about the crossover between author and reader.
He read some of his recent book and showed how he reads to students and encourages them to respond to his work digitally.He talked about the freedom of writing outside and taking photos and using them for inspiration.He also used Voice Memo to 'write' stories (often coming up with a good line or 2)He uses the app Scriviner to write his books.
'Writing Activities your children will love'
Deborah Abela previously a TV producer and teacher(Max Remy, Ghost Club and an educator)
Deborah encourages children to think:
I wonder what would happen if....
Deborah talked about her books and her upcoming books.
Deborah reiterated that there are always 3 parts to a narrative
Characters that a re put somewhere interesting and then make things go wrong. ( How can you make trouble for your characters.)
Deborah starts with speed writing activities ' What will happen next....'
She tells them a story based on one of her book characters and stops at various dramatic points and asks them what they'd do next...stuff has to go wrong! Trouble has to occur and solutions are required.
She introduced Narrative Bags: who what where? She leaves bags with cards in them around the room - characters, objects and locations. student choose a card. From each bag and explain what story can spring from the combination.
Story skeletons are lists of characters, settings and situation/ problem and they have to choose one of each to write a story. Deborah says that stories often move from the known to the unknown.
Deborah also provides story starters,some good and bad and asks the children to come up with ideas to make the bad ones better.
Story's are about creating pictures with all of their senses. ( see,hear,feel and smell) She encourages character profiles. She reads out an exchange between 2 characters and asks them to come to conclusions about the characters from what they've heard. What do you know about the characters?
One approach could be to 'interview' the characters. ( I will access her notes from her website)She showed her 3 act story structure plan which looks user friendly.
It was a long day ( 8:00- 4:30) and a long drive from Ballarat to Dandenong and back again in one day but I left with lots of great ideas that I will incorporate into our approach to writing this year.