Ester de Boer (illustrator) and I were very privileged to be asked do a whole school Author/Illustrator visit during Education Week on the 17th of May, by our good friend and fellow writer’s group member, Jacqui. She is a teacher at Kosciuszko Street Primary School. Bonus!
Ester had already done a few Illustrator talks, so she was quite comfortable. She knew what she wanted to do and what to expect.
As for me, I had to put my thinking cap on for a while. I asked myself, ‘What do I want to achieve during this visit?’
Being in schools and, mixing with children was not foreign to me. I had helped out in schools for years as a parent helper. I also have a Diploma in Education Support and I spent may hours in various schools on placement. In the past, I had run a youth group for teens for about ten years. I figured that I could do this. The only thing that I was concerned about was how my body was going to hold up for the day. (I have fibromyalgia).
The day dawned cool and gusty. The wind nearly whipped my display out of my hands on the way to the office. I was shown to the library where I set up my display. The bell rang and an excited group of preps were ushered in and were seated on the floor. This was it. Sink or swim.
I was a little nervous at first. But then I got into the swing of things and I was on a roll. To every class I announced that they were the first children to hear the story that I had written and was sharing with them that day - that no other child on the face of the planet had heard it.
The kids seem to listen intently as I shared my story growing up with Dyslexia. I told them about the books I loved then. I encouraged them not to give up even if it is hard to read and write.
I shared my story for 4-8 year olds, Saving Sophie. It is about two dogs that go missing, and it is based on a true story. The preps loved it. As they were little, and I didn’t have an illustrated book, for those that are more visual, I found photos off the net that I used throughout the story. Some were of the original dogs.
I had made copies for them, as well as a copy of the manuscript, so that they could have an activity to do when they got back to class. We then looked at where ideas for stories can come from. Then we brainstormed an outline for a story...with hilarious results. (I think that a story about a dancing elephant and some chickens going for a picnic on the beach maybe in the future).
Onto the 2/3 and 3/4 grades. I shared my story growing up. Then I shared a story that I had written 5-8 year olds, Riley and the Fear Monster, about overcoming fear, which got applause and thumbs up from all. Then onto the writing of stories and, ‘Stories are everywhere’ workshop. The kids were keen to take back to class with the story outline that they had completed.
Next up were three grades of 1/2 classes which followed the same pattern as the last class.
After recess, two grade 5/6 classes. I read them my story for 7-11 year olds about overcoming fear, Raymund and the Fear Monster.
You can read more about why I wrote Raymund and the Fear Monster here.
Raymund came before Riley. Riley I wrote after I did the Picture Book course through the Australian Writers Centre late 2015. It was my attempt to make Raymund fit the rules that I had learned. Riley works. Raymund needed to be written in a different way, and the grade 5/6 classes loved it. (Insert Happy Dance! here.)
There was a great deal of excitement in the air - a lot of questions about my other stories. One of my favourites was, ‘I like your writing. Have you written chapter books?’ When I said no, he looked disappointed. When I said that I have a couple that I am working on, he was happy again. Another was, ‘I really like your stories, especially the one that you just read. When will it be a book?’
So that is how the day continued. Each followed the outline, the plan - yet each was different, especially in the responses, and the stories that each group came up with. I loved the look of surprise and astonishment when I announced that they had just created an outline for a story. At the end of each session they would take what we had worked on back to class as an activity, with a reminder that the outline was just a place to start. You can change things if your story needs it.
I finished off the day with another 5/6 class. Rather than be quiet (which is why Jacqui gave me these guys at the end of the day because she thought that I would be exhausted), they got so super excited during the workshop, they kept forgetting to put their hands up. They were talking to each other about ideas for setting, characters and plot scenarios. It was not a quiet room. Buzzing with excitement and lots of questions. Brilliant! Loved every minute!
By the end of the day I was exhausted, and could barely walk, but walking on Cloud Nine.
Was it worth it? You bet! Why?
From my experience:
Feedback from the school:
Michelle Hibbert: Principal
Jacqui Johnson: teacher grade 2/3
Cameron Tingay: teacher grade 5/6
So this was a wrap-up about my visit. In the next couple of weeks I will share about the prep as well as for some useful sites that I found during my prep. I do like research. Fun! Fun! Fun! But not everyone does, so I hope that this will help someone out.
Here is the main site that I used. The website Primary Education and Teaching Association Australia has some great hints and tips for authors preparing to do author visits.
If you are one of the students, a parent of a student, or teacher from Kosciuszko Street Primary School, feel free to leave a comment.
If you are an author and have had a successful author visit, feel free to share your experience as I love hearing other peoples stories.
UPDATE: 7 Tips to Ace Your School Author Visit
Everyone else, feel free to share or comment. I love hearing from you.
Thank God May is almost over!!! What a mad ride in the centre of a spin dryer of a month! There's a stereotype that says that, in order to create, every writer (or artist) needs that haven from the rush and pressure of life- a little cave of solitude. I, personally, thrive on the squash and energy of a crowd. This month, however, has been all squash, rush and chaos- and- shizmik! I am all out of energy!
So when Saturday arrived, I just wanted to have a really chilled out writing session with my friends. Please please please... let's keep this cheerily shallow and silly, huh? Cos I'm really not up to taking anything serious right now!
It could be the after affect of dancing to the Wiggles all week in the Preppy room (while all the kids stood, staring at me as if to say “wow... poor Miss B has finally lost it!”) but I had the sparky little notion that we could have a go at song writing.
I arranged two piles of papers- one with the names of songs, the other with well known fairy tales. We chose from both piles, and then set about rewriting the stories to the melodies of the songs.
Megan composed the story of the Three Little Pigs to the tune of Twinkle Twinkle; Jacqui sang a dramatic glam-rock Red Riding Hood to Bohemian Rhapsody “It's the WOLF!... wolf wolf wolf wolf … mamamia let me go!” (can't quite remember how it went now, but you get the gist!); and Verity sang a great “We Will Rock You, Cindy!” (Cinderella).
I drew out that sweet, timeless classic, Bluebeard, and fit it to the tune of The Lonely Goat-herd (as in “High on the hills was a lonely goat-herd... yodeleyi yodeleyi yodeleyi-hoo!”) from The Sound of Music.
So here goes – feel free to sing along:
Once far away was a pretty girl who
hadn't had a date for a year or two
her folks set her up with a weird divorcee
saying “he's a freak, but hell- he's well to do!”
He showed her her room at the top of the tower
-designer clothes and diamonds with a hundred shoes...
Then turned to her sternly, his face a-glower
“Here's the deal – I tell you what to do!
“Under the castle's my secret man cave
where I keep my secrets.” (She replied “Oh, my!”)
“If you go in there, you'll cause me great rage.
If you disobey me you will die!”
But she bored of her life as a housewife
Yearned for adventure – to be free
Crept down into her husband's man-cave
And to her horror she did see...
Hanging on a meat-hook all skinned and gutted
were the butchered bodies of his former wives.
She knew from village gossip the divorces were messy
But for their disobedience they'd lost their lives!
She thought, “this guy's whacked! Better put the key back!”
But the key was covered with the victims' blood.
Though she doused it in bottles of stain remover,
the evidence remained- it wouldn't budge.
This lovely tale has cradled many a shivering child to sleep over the centuries. (Strange how Disney hasn't made an animated film yet...)
Thanks Ester, for hosting our writer's group. It was a fun challenge, that made us think of how we could fit the story into the melody of the song. It had us in fits of laughter, as well as sitting in amazement (well me anyway), hearing what everyone came up with.
So give this activity a go at your next writer's group, or when you just need to wind down and have some fun. Let me know what you come up with.
Last year when I decided to take the plunge and take my writing seriously, I would never have dreamed of the places I would go or the people that I would meet.
One year ago, I would not have dreamed of having just spent the weekend in Melbourne attending an awesome and amazing writer’s conference.
I did not imagine that I would meet and chat to children’s book authors, both emerging authors (like myself) and established authors that I had met on Facebook, or read their books, as well as the many varied and talented illustrators.
In my wildest dreams I did not imagine that I would have the opportunity to have two of my picture book manuscripts assessed by a publisher that I would otherwise have needed an agent to get near.
I did not think that I would ever be sitting in a conference hall at the Victoria State Library and listening to panels of publishers, editors and an agent, answer our myriad of urgent, crucial questions at the first Meet the Publishers Conference.
And yet that is where myself, along with 159 other delegates found ourselves last Saturday, 7th of May 2016.
It was a mild May Melbourne morning - we were standing outside the Victorian State Library in the surprisingly warm sunshine. The atmosphere while standing in line was one of warmth, friendliness and excitement, and it set the tone for the rest of the day.The doors opened. We crowded in and received out lanyards with our names and sweet illustrations on it.
I spotted various ladies wearing lovely cardboard crowns on their heads, working busily handing out lanyards and making sure everything was running smoothly. They were the lovely and amazing organisers and their team – Alison, Dee, Nicky, and Jaquelyn. Alison's husband ran the assessments. (He was not sporting a crown).
Nine o’clock came around and I left to find the Just Write For Kids Group at the Mr Tulk Café right next door, where we had organised to meet. We greeted each other like old friends, many of us feeling like we knew each other from our chats on Facebook.
After a quick chat, a promise to try to catch up later, and the excitement of swapping of business cards, we headed off to the Library’s Conference room. The atmosphere in the room was electric. I could scarcely contain my excitement. Here we all were; presented with the opportunity to hear twelve publishing professionals, in various panels, answering our most burning questions.
We were looking forward to an amazing and full day with the Picture Book, and Chapter and Middle Grade Panels before lunch, and the Illustration, Young Adult and Question Time Group Panel after lunch. Spread throughout the day were assessments and pitch sessions for authors and illustrators. And we were not disappointed.
Michael Wagner was MC and did a great job. He kept us entertained throughout the day with his questions of the various panels, and his wry sense of humour. There were some questions that, when answered, brought a collective gasp of disbelief and people looking at each other shaking their heads.
One time was during the Picture Book Panel when the publishers were asked about word count and they all just looked at each other.
This was so different to what had been drummed into my head in recent months.
Imagine my relief, along with many others, to be given permission to just write the story that is blazing within us to be told. It will fit somewhere. Yay!
Another Picture Book Panel question was regarding rhyming books. As long as it is good rhyme it is fine. (Sorry. I couldn’t help myself). But it has to be very good rhyme.
As an emerging Picture Book author, I did pay more attention to this particular panel, the publisher’s likes and dislikes etc - I know now where to send at least two of my manuscripts to. However, I think that - except for the bit about illustrations - the following is applicable across all age levels.
The panel shared what, to them, makes a picture book great:
What is a big NO in picture book stories?
However, one publisher does like stories for children that are on the scary side. So there is at least one exception to one rule.
When asked if authors should have an illustrator in mind when submitting, the answer is no. Again there was one publisher, fairly new on the publishing block, that didn’t mind an ‘already working together’ team. But this was also an exception. So it pays to check before sending your manuscript as to their individual guidelines and preferences.
When asked what do editors dislike and often receive in the slush pile, the answer was:
If you, and I’m speaking to the authors here, have ever wondered what sort of dream author a publisher would like, the publisher's answer is:
One thing that was interesting to note is that the publishers are calling for stories featuring strong female characters. It seems as if the market has been flooded with stories for boys. And as much as we would like to think that there is no such thing as books for girls and books for boys, there is. Girls are happy to be seen with books featuring a male protagonist (main character). But boys would not be caught reading a ‘girls’ book.
“It is our culture,” said one of the panel.
So there is a challenge for all the authors out there: to create a story with a strong lead female character that boys will happily read and be seen with in the school yard. Hmmm. Is it possible?
I met an emerging author at the conference, who has written a gorgeous Christmas story. It is pure poetry and makes for a great read aloud experience. She was concerned that she would be unable to get a publisher interested. Imagine her relief and delight when she heard from the publishers that they are keen for a commercial hook. Namely, holiday tie-ins like Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and… Christmas.
The rest of the day seemed to me at least, to pass in an excited blur. Breaking for a quick morning tea and catching up and meeting so many people, then the Chapter Book and Middle Grade Panel. But, I barely could pay attention. My assessment was coming up. I had managed to get two of my picture manuscripts in front of a publisher. I had two other manuscripts ready to pitch, just in case the first two weren't accepted. I kept going over and over my pitches in my head. Then it was my turn.
I wasn't very nervous. I had worked hard. I had planned and prepared as well as I could. I went in with the attitude that I wanted feedback on my stories from someone who knows what is wanted in the industry now. They would know how I can tweak my stories to really make them sing. And I had back ups for the eventuality that the first two were not accepted. I wasn’t disappointed.
My takeaways from my assessment:
Lunch was an exciting affair. The food was delicious and the friendly chatter contagious. It was so much fun. I played spot the people I know as friends on Facebook - the smiling faces and excited pointing and, “Oh my goodness! It’s you!” were just priceless.
The afternoon went by in a flash. The Illustration Panel; afternoon tea; the Young Adult Panel; The Question Time Panel.
And then there was the closing of the conference and the inaugural Meet the Publishers Conference 2016 (kidslitvic2016), was over.
Some went to the Cocktail party to chill, relax, to let their hair down and to mingle. Others were heading home or had planes to catch. As for myself, my friend Ester (illustrator), and our new found friend who was staying the same hotel as we were -- we got take away, a bad bottle of wine and headed back to our hotel room to wind down and celebrate an amazing day. We read out loud to each other our stories and works in progress, and talked about the wonderful experiences that we had had that day.
Here are the words of this new friend (who had never been in a writer’s group before), with tears in her eyes said, “I’m with my kind of people. You get me. You understand how I feel about writing and my stories.”
So if you have never considered going to a writer’s conference before, I would highly recommend it. This post is longer than many of my others, and I have barely scratched the surface of what the publishers said, and the wisdom that was passed on in general conversation from those that have gone before us and are further along in their publishing journey.
I didn't mention the many delegates who had flown in from as far away as Queensland for the opportunity that the conference held. I didn’t even talk of the incredible illustrators that had their stunning and varied portfolios on show upstairs. Suffice to say, it was an incredible and wonderful opportunity that Dee White and Alison Reynolds created for us. An amazing time that did not, at least for my friends and I, end at the conference. You and your team did a sensational job. Cheers! Bring on Meet the Publishers Day 2017.
If you are thinking of attending a writing conference aimed at children's authors here are a couple...
Upcoming children's author/illustrator conferences:
SCBWI Conference to be held in Sydney—September 4-6, 2016
CYA Conference to be held in Brisbane--2nd July 2016
Story Arts Festival to be held in Ipswich—5th September 2016
Please feel free to leave a comment about your own experience of the conference, any questions, comments, observations. I'd love to hear from you.
“I hate books!”
“I hate reading!”
“Books are boring!”
These are comments that are heard in household and at school. And it is becoming more prevalent. To me, this is a tragedy. Books can open up the world to a child. The can learn new things. They can escape to another time, another place, another country, or even another planet or alternate dimension. Reading books can be relaxing, exciting, or just pure escapism.
Reading was not always fun for me. I have dyslexia. My parents loved books and learning. I grew up with my mum saying to me, “You can a new thing every day of your life. It can be a word, a new skill, or a piece of information that you did not know before.” This statement is true, and is something that I have lived my whole life and have passed on to my own children. But in the beginning it was not easy. My mum helped heaps.
Everyone is different. With my dyslexia, the words tend to move about the page. I mix my b’s and d’s and even, at times, the p’s. I get words mixed up when I read. My eyes pick up words from above or below the line that I’ll be reading.
When I write, I find that I still drop off e’s off words. I can mix letters up in words, or whole entire words and sentences, as my brain races ahead. When writing on the computer, the red line will appear, and I know the word is wrong, but can’t figure out how to correct it. I can even pick the correct word from the list, but can’t figure out where I went wrong. I am getting better. It is hard work, but so worth it.
As a child my mum showed me how to place a ruler above and below the line that I was reading, and to place my finger under the word that I was reading. As I got better following the line, I took the top ruler away, then eventually the bottom ruler. Then I didn’t need my finger and I could track across the page and not get lost. Well not often. And I learnt to speed read. However, even now, there are times, especially when I am tired that I still pick up words from around the page and I have to re-read the same passage a couple of times before it makes sense.
I believe that if a child is interested enough in a book, they will read it. My parents let me have access to their library from an early age. I read the usual books for that era; lots of Enid Blyton.
The Folk of the Faraway Tree, The Wishing Chair and Naughty Amelia Jane were among my favourites. I loved horses so my mum bought me horse books. But, not just story books like Black beauty. No. She also bought me books on riding and taking care of horses. At the school library I read every book I could get my hands on. Horse Breeds of the World was my favourite.
I also liked a book of knots, and the Guidebook of Australian Birds. My sister and I would spend hours pouring through it, identifying which birds might live in our area, and then trying to spot them with the binoculars.
My own children were very different from each other and what they were interested in, and they were different to me.
My daughter loved animals, dinosaurs, and all books to do with those two subjects.
My son, he loved space, science and dinosaurs. From six I read to him Universe in Focus: the Story of the Space Hubble Telescope, The Magic School Bus series, and anything with dinosaurs. We read other books, but these were the main themes.
We went to the library often. They had their own library card, and I would pick out some other books to read, as well as have them pick their own books.
I am sharing this with you to show that, if you have a child that hates reading, for whatever reason, that, if you tap into what they are passionate about, they will want to read.
I recently read, I Spy a Great Reader by Jackie French. In it she shares her own experiences with Dyslexia, her very helpful family, and her passion for working with children to help them find that ‘magic book.’ So many times, as parents, we can get it wrong. Even well intentioned parents.
On page 232 Jackie shares an experience she had during a writing workshop. Sam seemed so enthusiastic throughout the workshop and appeared to be a boy that loved reading. The boy’s father painted a very different picture. Sam read very well but didn’t like books. It seemed that the parents had loads of books at home, but only ones that they liked and approved of.
When Jackie suggested, The Day My Bum Went Psycho, Sam’s eyes lit up. But the father called it rubbish and said his son wouldn’t like it. So that was the end of that. The light in Sam’s eyes went out, and so did any chance of Sam learning the fun of reading.
So how do you encourage a child who either has trouble reading, or can read but hates it? The key is to tap into what they are passionate about.
Top 10 ways to encourage reluctant readers:
Taken from I Spy a Great Reader by Jackie French. Chapter 10 Getting Kids Hooked on Books. Pages 239-247
I said earlier, that if you have a child that hates reading, for whatever reason, that, if you tap into what they are passionate about, they will want to read. On page 244 of I Spy a Great Reader, it tells the story of a boy, a friend of her son’s, that Jackie has called Paul. At age twelve, he barely read or write. But he loved chooks. One day, when Paul was over at their house, Jackie received in the mail a veterinary textbook on chook diseases. Paul loved the book so much he immediately started reading it. He borrowed it and finished it three days later. Later, Paul discovered farming magazines and other books about chooks. He loved non-fiction books.
So here are some bonus hints to encourage reading:
A final note:
It may be tough and difficult road, but it is not impossible. A child, when given the right help, support and encouragement, can learn to read and enjoy it.
Click here for some great strategies for parents and caregivers to help with their child’s reading from the Primary English Teaching Association Australia. It has some great hints and tips for parents to help their child to read at home.
Further information about Dyslexia and how children can be helped can be found at Dyslexia Daily.
Help for reluctant readers and writers can be found at ABC Jenny.
Feel free to share your stories with me.
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You can find more about me, and read my children's stories at Creative Kids Tales
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