Posts Tagged ‘conferences’

I feel privileged to have been able to attend this year’s CBCA Conference held in Sydney (20-21 May 2016).  Jam packed with inspirational speakers addressing the conference theme Myriad Possibilities, it was truly awesome to mingle with authors, illustrators, publishers and teacCBCA 2016 Conferenceher librarians and to be inspired on the topic of reading and books for young people.

The thought that went into the conference organization ensured that a range of issues related to books and reading for and with young people were tackled from virtually every angle possible: the reader, the writer, the illustrator, the publisher and everything in between!  With only two concurrent sessions held on the first day, it was enlightening to listen to the range of keynote and panel sessions that filled the two very full days of the conference. By incorporating the conference theme “Myriad Possibilities” into each session, aspects of books and reading were teased out and analyzed in a depth not often enjoyed at a conference of this nature:

Read: Myriad Possibilities
Picture Books: Myriad Possibilities
Myriad Possibilities in Creating Children’s Picture Books
Has the Internet killed Non Fiction or Created Myriad Possibilities?
Myriad Possibilities to Hook Young Readers
Myriad Possibilities for YA Readers
Myriad Possibilities for a Better World

Underpinning the conference was an emphasis on the incredible life altering and enhancing impact that reading has on young people.  Speaker after speaker mentioned the empathy building power of books, highlighting the ways in which readers are able to learn and experience how people relate to each other and to situations in which they find themselves, simply by slipping into the shoes of a story’s characters. These opportunities arise in all forms of literature for young people – picture story books, graphic novels, films, poetry and young adult fiction.

There was also a significant focus on the serious intentions of authors and illustrators in the creation of their books.   Themes explored were many and varied, but standouts were recent publications by Carole Wilkinson (Atmospheric) and Jeannie Baker (The Circle) who in totally different ways tackle the complex topic of climate change and nature, teaching our young about the impact of change at one point in the world and its’ ripple on effect to other far away locations across the world thereby developing a consciousness of the environment and how we each play a part in ensuring its sanctity.

Politics didn’t escape the attention of many of the presenters either.  Recent remarks by the Australian Federal Minister for Immigration, Peter Dutton, who in highly publicized statements has slated the value of refugees coming to Australia, were highlighted by a number of presenters who have written novels that grapple with the refugee experience and making our world a better place: Deb Abela (Teresa), Sarah Ayoub (Hate is such a strong word) and Nadia Wheatley (Flight) to name just a few.  Their words were passionate and in some cases primal as they begged readers to indulge in the empathy of the stories they have written and in the process develop a greater sense of compassion as they move through life in our world.

Another political push, made several times by various authors, related to the Australian Federal Government’s proposed change to laws regarding Parallel Import Regulations.  Delegates to the conference were urged to address their concerns by contacting the Australian Government Productivity Commission.

A fascinating focus of the conference was discussions and presentations about Picture Books.   So often regarded as books for only the young, authors and illustrators spoke about the complexity involved in writing the text and creating the illustrations for books that hold far more meaning than appears on the surface. The incredible depth of research that goes into the creation of picture story books and the intense collaboration required between author and illustrator is very impressive. Speaking in pairs, authors and illustrators shared with us the incredibly complex detail involved in creating a meaningful expression that upholds the author’s intentions.  Although it is hard to single out one presentation from another, Susan Gervay and Anna Pignataro stole the show as they described the painstaking process of writing and illustrating their two philosophical books: Ships in the Field and Elephants have Wings.  While the first picture story book unequivocally highlights the right of everyone to have a nationality, the second book re-visions the timeless parable of the Blind Men and the Elephant.

Forcing conference delegates to consider whether or not the Internet is killing non-fiction books was an unexpected opportunity to contemplate this issue.  Hearing that many authors are now pitching their work to a younger age group, mostly middle school, was a sad reminder of where and how schools students today are locating information. Addressing the topic, Mark Norman commented that for upper primary and older students, his books cannot compete with the Internet.  Facts viewed visually on YouTube, he said, outstrip interest in reading books.  Instead, he concluded, the Internet and non-fiction books must create pathways to each other.  Other panellists in this session implored teacher librarians to help create a groundswell of interest in non-fiction books and to create opportunities for authors to address students in schools.

Captivating and thought provoking sessions presented by over 30 speakers, all of whom have a passionate connection to children’s literature, has left me thinking deeply about all that is around to offer our students.  A number of times I wished that I could transplant the speakers into our school library so that the students could listen to the stories behind the stories they read.  The very full two day conference was an intense exposure to incredibly though provoking topics and at its end, a large number of books have been added to my never ending pile of ‘must reads’.

I am left feeling very fortunate to have had the opportunity to immerse myself in all that was offered by attendance at the 2016 CBCA Conference.

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It’s not often one is lucky enough to be totally immersed in a world of literature, but that is exactly what happened to me last weekend!

Attending the 2012 CBCA Conference in Adelaide was an amazing experience – a wonderful opportunity afforded to me by my school for which I am very grateful.

Meeting, speaking and listening to a range of authors and illustrators is always fantastic.   But having more than 25 of them assembled in the one place at the one time, as well as an additional 385 delegates all of whom came from a wide range of allied fields related to children’s literature and had, like me, travelled considerable distances from remote corners of Australia, was indeed something very special.

The range and variety of presentations at this two day conference was outstanding.   Following the opening presentation by seasoned author and storyteller, Phil Cummings, who recited a moving poem about his life, we shared with him the joy of seeing a performance of songs by The Festival of Music Choir.  Based on Cummings’ stories “Danny Allen was Here” and “Take It Easy, Danny Allen”, the songs were written by Red Gum song writer, John Schumann.  The performance was a most moving and inspirational start to the two day conference.

Listening to the inspirational words of the first Australian Children’s Laureate, Alison Lester, at both the welcome reception on the evening prior to the conference and then again as the opening keynote speaker at the start of the conference was indeed a pleasure.    Her cry for a teacher librarian to be instated in every library in every school was met with much hearty agreement.  Words shared by Nicki Greenberg in a panel discussion about Graphic Novels was inspiring as was the presentation chaired by Christobel Mattingley in which Jacqueline Hunter and Dorothy Davey shared the literacy program that evolved around the creation of the book “Our World” written by the children and reflecting the Bardi culture of One Arm Point Community School.

I was riveted to my chair listening to panelists Rosanne Hawke, Gabrielle Wang, Ruth Stark and Sally Heinrich as they discussed the topic ‘One world, many cultures’.  Having the opportunity to listen to their views about the well-worn themes of ‘multiculturalism’ and ‘cultural diversity’ was very thought provoking.  “Celebrate the difference rather than trying to be the same” was a wisdom shared by Gabrielle Wang.  It was fitting to follow this presentation with that of Penny Matthews.  Her topic ‘Uses of History’ outlined the importance of ensuring authenticity and credibility in the writing of novels.  A second panel discussion later in the day with Doug McLeod, Michael Gerard Bauer and Don Henderson discussing humour in teen fiction had the audience in stitches!   Without a doubt, this trio would make a great line up for any school’s literature focus.

Hearing the thoughts and opinions of authors such as the inimitable Mem Fox was both enlightening and entertaining.  Having never heard her speak before, I was transfixed and felt as though I could have listened to her speaking for an additional hour to that allowed by the program.   This seasoned author, teacher and lecturer easily planted into the minds of conference delegates new ways to approach story sharing with children.  In more ways than one, she proved that we are never too old to learn.

Having the opportunity to listen to overseas authors such as Oliver Jeffers, Eoin Colfer and Davide Cali was a blast.   While an amusing and professionally polished presentation by Oliver Jeffers about the importance and wonder of the illustrated book left the audience begging for more, anecdotes shared by Eoin Colfer’s were priceless! This man is so funny; he must surely have a second career as a stand-up comic!  While I admit to having only ever read the first Artemis Fowl story, I now have the whole series on my list of ‘must reads’.  Unfamiliar as I am with the work of Davide Cali, I was mesmerized by his presentation which outlined the inspiration behind many of his books.

Perhaps many in the audience hesitated over the session titled ‘Non Fiction for Children’, but the presentations by both Dr Carla Litchfield and Dr Mark Norman had us spellbound.  How children can learn, not only about gorillas, apes and an assortment of marine life, but how they can learn to care for the environment so as to ensure the longevity of these creatures made for a very powerful presentation.  Being followed by Isobelle Carmody, speaking on the theme ‘Fairy Tales’, provided a fast speed analysis and a complete contrast to the seriousness of the previous session.

One would have thought that by the time we got to the final session of the conference that both interest and attentiveness would have waned.   The complete opposite was the case though!  Chaired by Dyan Blacklock, panelists, publisher Erica Wagner and bookseller James Williams, had the audience vying to share their opinion on the given topic ‘The Future of Books’.  Troubling as it was to listen to what publishers see as the sudden appearance of eBooks and its devastating impact on the viability of the publishing industry, it was apparent from audience comments that publishers need to accept that it is the format of books that has changed not the interest in books.   Caught up in the demise of their businesses, it was clear that publishers are lamenting the rise of eBooks while those working at the coalface with young readers see eBooks as an enhancement to reading.

Fourteen sessions were crammed into the two day conference, but an opportunity to indulge in more was offered at each morning and afternoon break when book launches were aplenty.  A chance to browse through the work of authors in the conference bookshop was complemented by a visit to the State Library to view the Treasures Wall Exhibition ‘Multistoried’.  And in an effort to maximize all minutes of the day, a ‘Breakfast with the Stars’ early on the second day of the proceedings provided delegates the chance to connect in a more personable way with participating authors.

The conference was a memorable occasion for me.   Not only did it offer an opportunity to hear some of the best names in children’s literature, but it gave me a chance to ponder the significant contribution of a wide range of professionals working in the ‘book trade’ – authors, illustrators, publishers, booksellers, librarians, teacher librarians, journalists and reviewers each contribute much to the lives of our population of evolving readers.

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