CBCA Celebrate Story Creators (Children’s and YA literature)

By Nalini Haynes

It was a chilly Tuesday evening when I first ventured south of Lake Burley Griffin on my own-some, with the minion still at work. Because I still haven’t figured out the buses, I took the coward’s way to ALIA: I caught a taxi.

For those not in the know (like moi), ALIA is the Australian Library and Information Association. They have a lovely building, perfect for CBCA events, practically over the road from the Royal Mint. The CBCA is the Children’s Book Council of Australia, which focuses on children’s and young adult books. Membership is cheap, providing discounts for events and other perks.

The taxi driver pulled up at the curb and asked if this was the correct address. I said, “If your navigator says it is, I’ll take its word because I’ve never been here before.” Then I leapt out of the car to accost two women walking up the steps to the front entrance. They assured me this was the right place so I walked in to the inviting circular foyer where drinks and nibbles were laid out and people were gathering.

Along one curving wall was a (shock! horror!) bookstall set up by Harry Hartog Books. If you know me at all well, you know I tend to stay out of bookshops. “Hi, my name is Nalini, I am a bookaholic.” True to form I couldn’t resist and bought two books to add to the piles tormenting me at home.

Everyone was very welcoming, even when they realized I didn’t fit their usual demographic of published author (I am writing a YA novel!) or teacher/librarian. I explained Dark Matter Zine to some interested professionals. Dr Belle Alderman and I are planning a video tour of the National Centre for Australian Children’s Literature and an interview to post online. You just never know what will come out of these events.

After some socializing, we were summoned to the inner sanctum, a room with a podium and table at the front facing rows of comfortable seats. Our MC for the evening was Leanne Barrett, Vice President of the CBCA ACT Branch and Events Subcommittee Chair. Leanne was both welcoming and an excellent timekeeper. Her phone sang little songs at 8 and 10 minutes to ensure guest speakers had opportunity to speak while keeping to time. Because some people had to go to work in the morning!

Emma Allen was the first guest speaker. She told an entertaining story about how she loved stories as a child, including a librarian saying “Emma Reed, do not eat the [polystyrene] lamingtons” but she couldn’t help herself. She was so excited about stories as a child that she became an author. Scholastic has an author profile on Emma and Goodreads has a more complete list of Emma’s stories.

Craig Cormick was next up at the post. Or podium. Don’t be pedantic. He spoke as a children’s author although he writes across a range of ages and genres. His books are aimed at reluctant readers. Working with boys who are outliers, Craig uses game theory with male mentoring. Craig notes that most of the people reading to boys are women: women teachers, women librarians. Boys need to see men read too. Craig and some reluctant primary school readers wrote a book together and even launched the book. One of the boys, as an adult, told Craig that he could read because of that program. Now Craig has a story about a ghost Viking looking for his father…s approval. Another book is about a pirate who has to go to school to be a better pirate. The boys don’t notice the message, they’re all about the plot. For more about Craig and his work, see his website.

Pauline Deeves is a much-published children’s author. She pitched a book about children on the home front during World War 1; there are endless books about men, women and even animals but very few about children during this era. Children were a slave labor force. Patriotic gardens were run by kids in their own backyards at their families’ expense then, if they took food out of the garden, families had to pay for it. Pauline has researched lots of unusual facts about children’s lives and written interesting children’s nonfiction books. As a speaker she’s funny and charming and I want to read her books for kids! Pauline’s website is here.

Jack Heath is a prolific and much-awarded author. His favorite review that he’s received says “Kids love Jack Heath’s books and teachers and librarians studiously don’t ask if they’re good for them”. Like me, Jack believes that kids who don’t like reading haven’t met the right book yet. He’s funny. So are the kids who tell him the plots of his own books. His Minutes in Danger series each have short stories meant to be read within half an hour so reluctant readers can eat the elephant one bite at a time while discovering the action-packed stories are interconnected. Jack meets a lot of interested readers, which he enjoys, but it’s engaging with reluctant readers and disengaged children — like the child balancing a watch on his upper lip like a seal — that Jack finds really rewarding. Jack has a website.

All Harry Laing needs is a white lab coat to appear the epitome of a mad scientist but, instead, he’s the epitome of a mad poet with his friend, Shocktopus, from the cover of one of his books. Harry performed some of his poetry to much laughter, applause and repeated requests for recordings. Another book with Super Tap, Psycho Trolley and Wheel E Bin is in the planning stages. And he has a website.

Inspired by seeing joeys stuck behind a fence with their mothers on the other side, Kerry Malone writes about kangaroos in her backyard. Kids tell Kerry where they see kangaroos. Her book can be seen at markets and some good bookstores. Kerry has another novel planned with a ‘vision impaired’ protagonist who conceals her impairment by avoiding situations where she has to take her glasses off. Her website is here.

Tania McCartney looks surprised (over on Instagram) because one of her books made its way to the Scots parliament. She has two books that have each been shortlisted or longlisted for awards. When she turned 40 she pined to reconnect with her artistic side (she’s been writing instead) so now she’s being published as an author/illustrator with a picture book about Australia. Her website with books she’s written is over here; the book she’s illustrated will be released late this year.

Cate Whittle brought Trouble: a green and yellow dragon about whom she’s written two books so far. Kim Gamble illustrated her books before he died. Cate’s friend was originally called ‘Dragon’ but his name changed. Her second book is illustrated by Stephen Michael King, honoring Kim’s vision but with his own interpretation. It’s sitting in the warehouse so launch date is imminent. Cate’s website is here.

Part of the wrap-up included a reminder of the upcoming CBCA shortlist talks coming in July as well as a quick look at the book covering the shortlist, with artwork by Shaun Tan in both color (on the front cover) and inside as a coloring-in work with clues linking the illustrated characters with shortlisted and notable books published over the past 70 years.

The event included an interval and opportunity to chat afterwards while I waited for the minion to pick me up. Everyone was welcoming and friendly so I can highly recommend joining and attending the CBCA if you have an interest in children’s literature. This was an evening well spent with good company and entertaining presentations. I look forward to the next event!

(My apologies: normally I’d post all my photos in this article but iPhotos is playing up and won’t show me my last import when I try to upload photos although they’re on the desktop when I go in through another ‘door’. However, all the photos are over on Instagram.)

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Last photo of this #cbca event: author lineup!

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