Welcome to the blog of the Tasmanian branch of the Children's Book Council of Australia!

Friday, 14 July 2017

North American Influences

Join Maureen as she reports on a range of reading material explored whilst located in Canada. This is a great opportunity to broaden reading choices and expand horizons.

I am writing this while visiting family in Canada, where I always enjoy using the local library as well as browsing in one of the bookstore chains. Each time I discover new authors and some wonderful books. I guess that probably relatively few of them are available in Australia but at least some of our readers may be able to find a few. Most are picture books, but not always for the very young and a couple of titles for older readers. All have been published within the last 24 months or so.

This Book Just Ate My Dog by Richard Byrne. Bella loses her dog, a friend and emergency service vehicles inside the gutter of the books. By writing a note, she requests, in fact demands, the reader’s assistance to rescue everything. The illustrations make good use of the page’s ‘white’ space.

Home by Carson Ellis. Ellis looks at homes around the world, including some imaginary and improbable locations, and concludes with a question to encourage the reader to think about his/her home. Her illustrations use a limited colour palette enlivened with occasional red and/or yellow but are not bland.

InvisiBill by Maureen Fergus and Dusan Petricic. Bill is ignored by his family when he asks for the potatoes at dinner but once they can’t see him, they eventually realise how important he is to the family unit. The zany illustrations are cartoon-like and spaced across the pages.
The Nest by Kenneth Oppel illustrated by Jon Klassen. This science fantasy novel for middle school readers is the story of Steve and his family who are coping with a sickly newborn baby.  In his dreams, (or is it reality?), Steve is offered the chance by a swarm of wasps, of ‘fixing’ the baby. The cover combines the wood-like structure of wasp nests with the hexagonal partitions. Strange concept, but I enjoyed it.

Sometimes I Feel Like a Fox by Danielle Daniel. This Canadian title looks at the role of totem animals and how they influence the young of the Anishinaabe tradition. Each child wears a mask depicting the relevant animal with a simple poem as the accompanying text.
Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat by Javaka Steptoe. I knew nothing about Jean-Michel Basquiat but this book is a wonderful introduction to his younger years, his and his family’s problems and his advancement in New York. The illustrations reflect Basquiat’s style.

Missing Nimama by Melanie Florence and Francois Thisdale. This Canadian picture book for mature readers is the story of Cree women who have gone missing or been murdered, from the viewpoint of a young girl, now cared for by her grandmother, as she progresses through her life, with a parallel story from the missing woman. There are interesting variations in the illustrations through the book.
Did You Take the B From My –ook? By Beck and Matt Stanton. This great read-aloud will attract young listeners and the person reading will sound ridiculous. There will be lots of bravado from children who know better than their adult. Illustrations are minimal, primary colours but essential to the verbal text.

I Am Not a Number by Jenny Kay Dupuis, Kathy Kacer and Gillian Newland. Another Canadian book, based on indigenous problems, tells the story of three Nipissing children who are forcefully taken away to school, where Irene is only known by her number 759. After the first summer holiday their parents refuse to allow them to return again. A powerful story which for me was perhaps more verbose than it needed to be.

Leave Me Alone
 by Vera Brosgel. There was an old lady who lived in a house with too many occupants, so she left to complete her knitting in peace. She tries various locations, accompanied by her bulging sac, till she completes it all and returns home, as though she’s never been away. The text and pictures complement each other well.
That Squeak by Caroline Beck and Francois Thisdale. This Canadian short story in picture book format, is the thought-provoking story of the friendship between Joe and Jay as well as the early suspicions changing to burgeoning friendship between Joe and Carlos. Jay’s squeaky bike seat is the link between the two relationships. Great use of illustrations supporting the text
Freedom over Me by Ashley Bryan. This Newbery honour book brings This Newbery honour book brings to reality the story of 11 slaves, their lives and dreams. The book was triggered when Ashley Bryan found some slave sale documents. In 1828, the Fairchild’s plantation estate was disbursed and men, women, children and animals were listed together for sale. The illustrations make good use of pen, ink, watercolour and original documents.  

Heartless by Marissa Meyer. This is a sort-of prequel to Alice in Wonderland, combined with some characters from Poe’s The Raven. We meet the Queen of Hearts when she is young and idealistic, being wooed by the King of Hearts but conflicted because she has fallen in love with his joker, Jest.  Other Wonderland characters appear: Cheshire the disappearing cat, the Mad Hatter, the Jabberwocky, Peter Pumpkin Eater but there is more than just Wonderland. An interesting fairytale retelling for teenagers.
Have you been inspired by any of the books listed? Or have you already discovered one or more?


Maureen Mann

Retired teacher librarian and avid reader

Editor's note: Heartless is a wonderful tale and will be avidly read by those who have enjoyed Meyer's Lunar Chronicles.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Things that make you go hmmmmm

This week readers are challenged to consider gender bias in children’s literature with some useful starting points to assess you own bookshelves, and buying habits – is there a gap in your library? 

I recently watched the following video clip that appeared in my Facebook feed. It really got me thinking…

While its ultimate purpose is to spruik the authors' book, it still remains a thought-provoking watch. The clip is about gender bias in books. It presents a mother and daughter surveying a book case of books on display at a bookshop or similar. They start out by removing books that have only females in them and then books with only males in them with a startling difference in numbers weighted to the males. The first time I watched it, this was as far as I got because my immediate reaction was “No, it’s not that bad… surely?”

I mulled this over for a few days. Then I went back and watched the clip all the way through. I thought that, while it does seem that there are certainly a lot of males represented in books, surely there were plenty of females too? Are library staff gender biased or maybe gender blind towards their collections? Did I need to make more of an effort to present a balanced view? Am I unwittingly contributing to this?

I decided to take a quick poll of a section of my collection. I will admit, due to time constraints (hey, we all know about that, don’t we?) I just concentrated on my picture book collection and surveyed all the books that were currently on display and all the picture book returns for that day. I chose these two subsets because the display books are the ones promoted to the children and the returns indicate the student’s preferred selections. These provided me with a total sample of 51 books.
The result were:

  • Male only characters - 14
  • Female characters only – 3
  • A mix of female and male characters – 14
  • Female characters who don’t speak – 8
  • No male or female gender indicated – 12

So what did I learn from my admittedly small experiment? Yes, gender bias does appear to exist in picture books, even when there’s no immediate reason for it to be. For example, the main character is a bear or a rabbit (i.e.: genderless) but the text still refers to “he/him/his”, even though there is no reason why “she” couldn’t have been substituted. There were very disappointingly few female only books. I was quite surprised. I was also surprised at books I thought would have female only characters or which had a female main character, how often they would have male characters too. And hardly any of them have male characters who don’t contribute to dialogue, while many of the books with both female and male characters, the female characters are referred to but don’t have any dialogue. Hmm, food for thought.

I was also surprised to see how many picture books had no gender, a subset that the video ignored completely. And how popular this subset is with children (they account for nearly a quarter of the sample).

The video does narrow down the categories to things like
  • Books that show females with hope and dreams
  • Books in which the females are princesses

And I’ll freely admit I didn’t get that nit-picky, mostly because I found the initial results so startling and the time factor. The clip then goes on to direct you to the website Rebel Girls, which includes a blog that you can join that will keep you updated on books with a strong female base this has a strong American slant.

I did join this group and have found the emails interesting and it helps to keep the subject current and something to consider when I’m purchasing new books.

With that in mind, here are some recent purchases.
The Book of Heroines: Tales of History’s Gutsiest Gals includes well known favourites such as Helen Keller and Joan of Arc but it also has great examples of more contemporary women including Michelle Obama, Malala Yousafzai and Emma Watson. With its great photos and a layout that makes the information easily accessible, I’m sure it will be a much borrowed addition to our library.



Similarly, Fantastically Great Women who Changed the World written by Kate
Pankhurst, a descendant of the suffragette leader, Emmeline Pankhurst, details the contribution of various women through history. It’s a more cartoonish style book, which should appeal to younger readers.

Also, I Wanna be a Pretty Princess made me laugh in relation to the clip. One of the comments made in the clip is that lots of books with female characters are only about princesses. While this is certainly evident, this particular book does take a cheeky look at being a princess. The wannabe princess does it her way, in no uncertain terms!



So, where to now? Perhaps you might like to take your own mini poll? Maybe you can share really positive examples of strong female centred books? Maybe it’s something to keep in mind when next purchasing? Or maybe you think it doesn’t matter at all?

What are your thoughts?

Tania Cooper
Library Technician and devourer of books
Ulverstone Primary School.