This speech was written in 2010 for the CBCA NSW ALOUD Children’s Literary Festival (Broken Hill)
Welcome Gatekeepers and thank you for coming to our little literary festival dinner.
This festival dinner and the activities which have taken place over the past 2 days have been brought to the community of Broken Hill thanks to the work of volunteers with the Children’s Book council of Australia, NSW Branch and through funding from Arts NSW and ASLA NSW.
So who are the Children’s Book Council of Australia and what do they do? Well, the annual CBCA Awards and Children’s Book Week are the two most well known aspects of the national organisation, but there is so much more happening at a state and regional level.
I wonder how many of you here tonight can tell me what the slogan for the Children’s Book Council of Australia is?
The slogan is “Engaging the community with literature for young Australians”.
Whenever I’m at an event people ask me “So, what do the CBCA do?” and to me the slogan really sums it up. We engage the community, young and old, with literature for Young Australians”.
Throughout the year we provide opportunities for children and adults to meet and work with real live authors celebrating the wealth of amazing Australian children’s literature that many of us take for granted.
In NSW alone, our programs include writing masterclasses, author afternoon teas, a glitzy film award ceremony, celebratory dinners, annual mini-conferences, Frustrated Writer’s Mentorship Programs and of course travelling to a whole different time zone to make sure as many members of the community as possible are engaged with literature.
This word “engaged” stands out to me in particular after reading John Cohen’s editorial in the August 2010 Reading Time. In this editorial he lamented the browsing approach to reading that has developed through the use of internet and computer games. To quote John:
We live in a world of sound and reading bites that never challenge the reader to think in any depth. The information glut results in a demand for the quick summary of news items that rarely ask for any discrimination on the part of the reader, viewer or listener.
His suggestion that readers are lacking not only the skills, but also the opportunity to discriminate and to delve deeply into text is a concern.
Fortunately this ailment in society can be cured in the most enjoyable way.
By engaging in literature!
By engaging in literature we find we are not the only ones who think, feel and act a certain way. By engaging in literature we are challenged in the way we think, feel and act. By engaging in literature we learn that there are many ways to think, feel and act.
But the key here is the act of engaging with literature. Sure, I read every Babysitter’s Club book there was, and I believe there is a role for those pink fairy books as fodder for emerging readers who are developing fluency.
But don’t you remember those books that changed your life? Books like Letters From the Inside, Possum Magic, Amy and Louis and I Came Back to Tell You I could Fly? These are stories that really engage Young Australians.
These are stories that capture you and make you use a torch under the bedsheets because you couldn’t bear it if mum made you stop reading before the end. These are books that took us away, far across the storybridge. We can still remember what it was like living in that world, even for the briefest of times.
As a mother of two small children I am now looking at children’s literature from a new perspective. I am amazed at the way even the simplest of text and illustrations prepare children for the challenges that lie ahead.
Take for example Cheeky Monkey written by Andrew Daddo and Emma Quay. This was the first proper, paper-page book my daughter didn’t eat. For her this was a life changer, and the change came here: “Not how you like it, grizzly grump”. She realised she was not the only one in the world who hates having her hair brushed.
My daughter doesn’t know what the word “literature” means, but she doesn’t need to. She’s already engaging with it.
Along with “engage” and “literature” there is another word in the CBCA slogan that really stands out and that word is community. Without community what is the point of engaging in literature?
So I thank you again, gatekeepers, for coming along tonight because you are the ones who provide those all important Young Australians with access to the literature which will change their lives, and by helping them engage they will develop the skills to question and challenge the sound–bites they are fed.
Now it is my great pleasure to introduce our guests, authors Libby Gleeson and Oliver Phommavanh.
Oliver will speak first tonight.
I first met Oliver about 2 years ago at a writing workshop. Our teacher, Robin Morrow, told us to write a story or story-outline for an object we had brought along with us. Oliver had brought, sorry to say this, a rather scruffy looking blue Care Bear pencil case. When he stood up at the front of the group to share his story-outline about the pencil case whose belches disturbed the whole class he literally had the rest of us in stitches.
And over the past 2 days Oliver has used a whole collection of soft toys, from the famous care-bear Grumpy to Mario, and even super-water-bottle-woman with the power to quench thirst, to delight, entertain and inspire Broken Hill children in their creative writing.
Oliver’s debut novel was launched in June this year, and it is a Thai-riffic read. He is a man of many talents, including stand up comedian, so I knew the book would be funny, but I should have also known it would be thoughtful, smart and very moving.
Having met Oliver as an unpublished author I feel an enormous pride and privilege to have attended his book launch and to be working with him as a professional writer.
I now hand over to Oliver Phommavahn, children’s author.
As preparation for this visit I have researched everything I could about “Libby Gleeson”, and I have come to two conclusions.
- Firstly, Libby is completely fabulous as an author, advocate for children’s literature, Indigenous literacy and literature, a voice for refugees, women, girls, Australians. She is a voice for freedom, empowerment, belief and most importantly a voice for children who cannot put into words the bittersweet beauty of having a best, best, best friend who lives on the other side of the world.
- The second conclusion I have come to is that Libby is far too modest. Libby is embarrassed when I probe her about her amazing achievements. But I am not the only one who recognises Libby’s outstanding talent as a storyteller and for her services to children’s literacy and literature.
So please indulge me just a moment longer as I very briefly list some of Libby’s achievements. Libby has been writing for 35 years and has 35 books published. The first of these, Eleanor Elizabeth, won the Angus and Robertson Writers for the Young Fellowship. Eleanor Elizabeth was also Highly Commended Australian CBC Awards, 1985 and Short listed South Australian Literature Award, 1985. She has been shortlisted or won state, national and international awards ever since, including being shortlisted 13 times for the Children’s Book Council of Australia Awards . Among the most prestigious of these is the Bolonga Razzi Award in 2000 for her incredibly powerful picture book The Great Bear (recently reprinted). Libby was the first Australian to win this award.
She has also been honoured for her services to children’s literature – receiving the CBCA Lady Cutler Award in 1997 and an Order of Australia medal more recently.
As I say, this is just a summary of Libby’s achievements so please do as I have and google Libby Gleeson, and ofcourse read as many of her books as you can.
Please welcome, Libby Gleeson, AM.
To see and hear excerpts from both Libby and Oliver’s speeches join the CBCA NSW facebook group. Apologies for the poor sound quality.
Jessica Francis, October, 2010
For a more recent discussion of Libby Gleeson’s groundbreaking work with Armin Greder please take a look at this link http://ianmclean.edublogs.org/2011/05/11/libby-gleeson-on-i-am-thomas/