Posts Tagged ‘Susan Gervay’

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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