Saturday, April 12, 2014

Anticipate, Appreciate, Applaud

You know how much I love children's picture books! Why wouldn't I? You get to relive your childhood, devour delightful words, chuckle, cry, hoot, swing....

Well, you get what I mean, don't you? C'mon then...if you don't know what I mean, it's obviously been way too long since you've read a picture book!!

I recently had the privilege of attending a Children's Book Council of Australia (CBCA) event, along with many other children's book lovers, so I'm not loony after all... heaps of other clever adults love picture books!

Anyway, it was the CBCA “anticipate, appreciate, applaud” event, where the 2014 list of Notable Books and the Short List for the 2014 Children’s Book of the Year Awards were announced.

What did I do there?
  • Mingled with authors, illustrators, publishers, other teachers, teacher-librarians, and fellow book-lovers.

  • “Anticipated” the Short List with a panel of experts who shared their personal choices before the announcement.
  • “Appreciated” the wonderful array of Australian children’s literature.
  • “Applauded” the authors and illustrators whose books have been chosen for the 2014 Notable Book List and the Short List.

The CBCA Shortlist:

The complete lists can be found at, but I was particularly chuffed when two of my current favourites made the list…

The first is in the Early Childhood category...

This is a book I recently bought as a gift for a baby shower. It’s a sweet poem/lullaby celebrating a baby's wonder at our amazing world. Who doesn't love Alison Lester?!

The second is in the Picture Book category…

This is one of the books I chose to teach in the Literacy Unit I wrote for Term 1. It’s a haunting, but beautiful tale of the power of words, the importance of stories and the resilience of the human spirit. It’s a celebration of things that can’t be destroyed by bombs or fire. Although it is about war, my young students thoroughly enjoyed it, which goes to show that kids can handle more serious themes.

I was very excited that my choice of text was worthy of the Short List :) Not surprising, considering how amazing Margaret Wild is!

What else did I learn?
“A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” C.S. Lewis
  • It’s all about EMOTION!

Important question: Do the words and the pictures (where relevant) evoke an emotional response in the reader?
  • There is such beauty in words!
Just look at them:

  • In picture books, every element of text and pictures should work together to enhance the emotion in a story.
Illustration by Tony Flowers, which he cleverly created on the day

  • "To fully appreciate a story, we should read with our heart first"…this is a great lesson to teach our kids, from the amazing Mem Fox.

Unveiling of 2014 Book Week theme  – “Connect to Reading / Reading to Connect”:
  • Book Week dates: 16-22 August 2014
  • “Connect to Reading/Reading to Connect” - I think the theme of Book Week this year is very exciting… encouraging connections between:
- teacher/student
- student/student
- parent/student

Quality literature to support the new Australian Curriculum:
  • Australian Curriculum definition of literature...

“The Literature strand aims to engage students in the study of literary texts of personal, cultural, social and aesthetic value. These texts include some that are recognised as having enduring social and artistic value and some that attract contemporary attention. Texts are chosen because they are judged to have potential for enriching the lives of students, expanding the scope of their experience, and because they represent effective and interesting features of form and style. Learning to appreciate literary texts and to create their own literary texts enriches students’ understanding of human experiences and the capacity for language to deepen those experiences. It builds students’ knowledge about how language can be used for aesthetic ends, to create particular emotional, intellectual or philosophical effects.”

“In this syllabus, the study of a wide range of texts is central to the study of English. This includes the study of texts which are widely regarded as quality literature, providing students with the opportunity for aesthetic experience and to develop an appreciation of the artistic expression found in texts.In the primary years of schooling, the study of text types, as part of a broader study of texts, is intended to facilitate student literacy skills and help to establish knowledge about the purpose and audience, structures and language features of a broader range of texts.”

“When teachers are looking at selecting books, we need to see if quality literature will fit into the relevant categories/cross-curriculum priorities of the syllabus; not just buy any book that will fit into that category. Let’s choose quality that will inspire children to understand why these priorities are important.” 
The 3 cross-curriculum priorities are as follows:
–Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures
–Asia and Australia’s engagement with Asia
“The new curriculum also looks at developing General Capabilities. And literature is just amazing because we can tick off every single one of these general capabilities by reading a quality children’s book.”
The General Capabilities in Literacy are as follows:
“Students become literate as they develop the knowledge, skills and dispositions to interpret and use language confidently for learning and communicating in and out of school and for participating effectively in society. Literacy involves students in listening to, reading, viewing, speaking, writing and creating oral, print, visual and digital texts, and using and modifying language for different purposes in a range of contexts.”
What is quality literature?

This inspirational quote sums it up beautifully…
“Literature is not just about a story, it is about life and one’s world. It can act as a mirror to enable readers to reflect on life’s problems and circumstances; a source of knowledge; a means to peer into the past, and the future; a vehicle to other places; a means to reflect on inner struggles; an introduction to the realities of life and death; and a vehicle for the raising and discussion of social issues…literature offers ‘endless possibilities’ for readers to explore their world and learn from it, to enter ‘other worlds’ and to engage in meaning making.” (Cairney, T.H. (1995). Pathways to Literacy. London: Cassell, pp. 77-78) 
To end…

I believe there’s nothing quite like holding a quality book in your hands.

If you've read “It’s a Book” by Lane Smith, you’ll know exactly what I mean! If you haven’t read it yet, watch this…

Friday, March 7, 2014

Jenny Loves To Write!

Remember that secret I hinted at here?

I think it's time to start revealing the whole thing. Well, maybe not the whole thing...but part of it can be spotted at the end of this page...

Did you click over there?

Yep, that's right, it's all happening in 2014! :)

I do have another secret I can't wait to share....just not yet :) Soon, I promise!

Anyway (*a quick change of subject*)...

I've been a little under the weather the last few days, so it's given me time to do some reading, which I always love (when I'm not writing or drawing, of course). In fact, I read a whole pile of books, which I'd had on my to-do list for ages, in ONE DAY...

Bunny Loves to Write by Peter Bently
Bunny Loves To Write by Peter Bently
   I know, I know, they're children's picture books, but what better way to lift your spirits than by reading pure, innocent, colourfully mesmerising literature for kids?!

I find it heartwarming and comforting in a way that's difficult to define. But it takes me back to my childhood...a carefree time, when I thought I would live forever, conquer the world and save it, all at the same time!  

One of my favourite characters, I was truly blessed to meet on this reading adventure, was Buster Bunny, who it seems, is a lot like me.

In Bunny Loves to Write by Peter Bently, Buster Bunny loves to read and when somebody gives him a notebook and a pencil, he soon discovers a love of writing as well! Buster uses his wild imagination and awesome creativity to write the story featured in this book and he even illustrates it himself. Buster Bunny is my new hero! :)

The thing is though, when he stumbles upon the age-old problem of 'writer's block' (my take on the complication of this narrative), his friends come to the rescue. They encourage Buster by telling him how magnificent his story is so far, then go on to add their ideas. Buster welcomes their feedback and the story is finally finished. Fabulous!

Now, isn't this exactly what we all need? Encouragement and motivation to keep going, no matter what our project is?! See, you can learn so much from kids' books!! :)

I've just joined Julie Hedlund's 12x12 version of Buster's group of friends. The aim is to write 12 picture book drafts in 12 months. It sounds like a lot of pressure, but it's a great way to stay accountable to my writing plan. So far, the encouragement, motivation and advice I've received is priceless. I love my new 12x12 friends!

This is only the beginning of a great adventure :)


Sunday, February 23, 2014

Getting through the writer's block...

It took a while, but I finally got Chapter 4 of my novel over to Amanda ...and a couple of days early at that :) I was happy to get this response in Amanda's reply email:
"A really substantial chapter!  Great work :)"
I knew there would be more to it than that though. I'm getting used to the fact that Amanda, being the talented professional she is, needs to be brutally honest in order for me to progress with this novel of mine. I have so much to learn about novel writing, and along the way, I'm learning some things about myself too. The first is that I am getting pretty good at taking constructive criticism graciously, if I must say so myself. In fact, I find myself actually looking forward to Amanda's criticism, in a weird kind of way :) I guess the simple truth is, if I want to eventually get my novel to a stage where it is ready for proudly presenting to a publisher, then I have to be able to take criticism graciously...and then act upon it to make my writing better. I've also had another revelation of sorts, that came to light amidst the following feedback from Amanda:
"This chapter was stronger with more happening, the story moved forward- actually very swiftly. You are very keen on people having an opportunity and leaving for their destination immediately - if not sooner :) One issue - to look at later - is that sometimes we get a quick summary of something significant ie. skimmed over and then every detail of something not very significant."  
It was when she says I'm often giving a quick summary of significant events, rather than detailing them as I should. I thought about this, and now realise I'm probably trying to avoid parts of the story that are emotionally challenging or difficult for me to dwell on. The parts that remind me of how much my forefathers suffered to benefit me, basically. It makes me sad to think that my parents and grandparents left their homeland at a very young age, left everything they knew and loved, in order to make a better life in a new country FOR ME! They wanted to forge a better future for their children, even those of us who were yet unborn. Suffice to say, I am completely in awe of them, and grateful beyond words for their sacrifices. So I better start showing it, by giving due diligence to the difficult parts of the immigration experience in my novel. It deserves more detail than what I've given it so far. So it's on to Chapter 5 for me, which is a lot further than I thought I'd get when I first started out all those months ago. "Writer's block" has been a bit of an issue for me during this chapter. But creating my fantangle designs is rather therapeutic, helping me get through these "writer's block" moments in a productive way :)

Here are my two latest designs...


Saturday, January 11, 2014

Happy New Year!!!

Fantangle Christmas Angel
I can't believe we're already almost half way through January 2014. I'm loving the holidays, and trying not to plan too far ahead now, so that the rest of January doesn't fly by. My plan is to take each day as it comes, and enjoy the moments.

I've enjoyed being able to draw and read over the holiday break. However, the plan is to do a little more writing than I have been. That's one of my resolutions for 2014, of course. I need to push past the self-doubt and just keep writing.

Recent feedback for Chapter 3 of my novel from Amanda has given me a push to keep going, but it has also confirmed what I've been thinking for a while. I need to do more research. But where do I begin?

I know that many writers have lived in or traveled to the place in which their novel is set. Unfortunately, I haven't done either. I have a little voice in my head saying, "You have to go there." But there are a few obstacles in the way at the moment.

Amanda says:

There is a lot of good stuff in here and when you get into what they do with their time - making soap/harvesting etc it really feels there is some flavour and substance. BUT (the big but) if you think about the fact that the reader needs a constant stream of new information - you’ll see that many parts of the story go back and forth and occasionally round in circles - next chapter try and focus on surging forward on the current of the story and you’ll find a new momentum is created. Remember conflict is story - story is conflict. Have fun!

My problem with moving forward is that I don't know enough about Lebanon. I haven't walked under the trees, climbed the mountains, chatted with the villagers, chomped on the almonds, smelt the orange blossoms, breathed in the crisp, mountain air. I've only heard stories about it. I haven't even seen many images, as back in my parents' day there was not a lot of photo taking.

Add the fact that I don't really know how to research the period in time I've set my novel in, other than listening to my mum's stories of her childhood, and I believe I have a real problem. My mum's many stories are absolutely amazing, by the way. It's just that I need to help my reader see and feel and smell. But if I haven't even seen, felt or smelt the place for myself, how on earth am I going to effectively write about it?

Then I'm going to have to deal with the problem that I wasn't alive in the 1950's in Australia either. How do I get a realistic sense of what it was like to live in a small country town in Australia back then? What was it like for a young man and woman starting their married life in a new country, not knowing the language, knowing nobody but their immediate family, having no job, and to top it all off, to be utterly and terribly homesick?

So, I can't transport myself back in time, nor can I fly to Lebanon at the moment. It looks like I've got some tricky novel writing challenges ahead! Onward and upward to Chapter 4 :)

P.S. I know I haven't revealed my secret, which I hinted about in my last post. It's not that I've forgotten, I'm just not ready to spill the beans yet. All in good time...

P.P.S. I thought I'd share my Christmas Angel (above), as I never got around to getting them made into personalised Christmas cards to mail out to friends and please enjoy it here instead. Better late than never :)

Thursday, December 19, 2013

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...

There are so many wonderful things about this time of year. There's the reminder of that day many years ago when a precious baby was born in a manger...a tiny baby destined to change humanity for eternity. Then there's the excitement of spending joyful times with family and friends. Of course there's the blessing of holidays, where we get to rest and rejuvenate for the coming year. And there's also the thoughts, hopes and dreams for the future, that we always seem to remember when a new year is just around the corner. 

At the moment, I'm dreaming of a white Christmas in two of my favourite cities in the world...maybe I'll experience it some day?! 

But I'm also appreciating the "moment" and the awesome place that I'm in right now, with the people I love the most on this planet...

2013 has been a year filled with triumphs, but also challenges and some real heartache too...but isn't that what life is all about?! We all know that life can be like traveling on a really bumpy road, then suddenly we hit a smooth section of the road, and we get to rest a little, recuperate and get ourselves ready for the next bump. But it's the bumps that make us truly appreciate the smooth sections of the road, right?

Christmas is an amazing time of year, but I know that for some, Christmas is also a painful time. A reminder of a time that didn't go so well. Or a day when a loved one will be sorely missed :( But even in the midst of sadness, I've felt an urge to find happiness and gratitude still. It's what I have to do to keep going...refocus on the positive.

Maybe I'm starting my New Year's resolutions early, but what the heck!  My New Year's resolution is to BE HAPPIER!! To help me along the way, I've found an excellent app...I know you think I'm addicted to my iphone, but you really should check it's supposed to make you happier :), so why not?!

Screen shot 2013-12-19 at 10.31.23 AM
Another happy moment to report is that I'm well over 2000 words into writing Chapter 3 of my novel. Amanda is going to be very proud of me :) As with many writers I've heard about, writers' block can be a real problem, or "stumbling block" to the creative process. But lately, I've found going back to my love of art has really helped to get my creative mojo flowing again. You can check out some of the stuff I've been working on here.

I'd like to end with a little secret I've being bursting to tell...

Guess what?

You're never going to believe it!

I'm not sure if I should tell you.

But if I don't, I think I'll explode!!!


Maybe next post :)

Wishing you a very Merry Christmas and the happiest New Year ever!!!!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Chapter 2...forging ahead

I'm happy to report that Chapter 2 of my novel has now been written, and Amanda's feedback has been an eye-opener, to say the least. (If you haven't been following what's going on, you can read about Chapter 1 and how this project all came about here).

The first thing I can say after this second lot of feedback from Amanda is ... WOW! This novel-writing thing is not as romantic as it sounds :) In fact, it's plain hard work.

I'm only up to Chapter 2, and having written approximately 10,000 words, with at least another 50,000 to go, it's scary to think that this is only the first draft. Then the enormous challenge of going back to revise and edit every single one of these words I'm writing will begin. I don't even want to think about how long that whole process is going to take.

Aside from the sudden fear of all the work I now realise is ahead in order to complete this novel, I also have a renewed awareness of what it takes to be an author. I am utterly and completely in awe of published authors...especially those who have 2+ novels sitting on the shelf! And I thought doing a marathon was a big deal!

Although I find writing therapeutic, it hasn't taken me long to realise that I will need to find 'research' appealing too. I've never been big on researching though. Even when I was writing essays for school or uni, I always seemed to find the quickest path to get the final product done and dusted. And somehow, passed with flying colours!

I guess I got away with it back then. But when it comes to writing a novel, set in the early 1900's, in a country I've never even stepped foot in, and based on the lives of people I've never actually, that's another story!

After reading Chapter 2, Amanda said:
"There are a number of elements that jumped out as difficult to believe and that’s a problem because once you lose credibility with the reader it’s very hard to recover."
In other words, I need to know what I'm talking about. I can't just write down the end result of something and expect the reader to know how on earth I got there. I have to take the reader through the process with me, or 'take them along for the ride', if you will!

Basically, I don't want the reader to be asking, "How is that possible?" but rather, "What happens next?"

So forging ahead with my word count is still high on the agenda, but developing credibility along the way must also take priority.

Onward and upward to Chapter 3 :)

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Starry Night

Van Gogh's Starry Night (my favourite painting of all time)

"Perhaps they are not stars in the sky, but rather openings where our loved ones shine down to let us know they are happy."

-Eskimo Saying