This page is the Porirua Children's and Young Adults' Librarian's view of life and books from the junior and teen sector of the literary world.
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Bee's Bookish Blog 2012
September 25-October 1 is Banned Books Week, celebrating your freedom to read (and everyone else’s too). This year the American Library Association (ALA)-lead initiative spotlights diversity. The most recently published list of books challenged, restricted, removed or banned in the 2015-16 period highlights the importance of doing so.
It is estimated that over half of all banned books are by authors of colour, or contain events and issues concerning diverse communities, according to ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. “It’s alarming to see so many diverse voices facing censorship,” says Charles Brownstein, chair of the Banned Books Week Coalition. “2016’s Banned Books Week is an important moment for communities to join together in affirming the value of diverse ideas and multiple viewpoints. By shining a light on how these ideas are censored, we hope to encourage opportunities to create engagement and understanding within our communities, and to emphasise the fundamental importance of the freedom to read.”
While sexual and violent content are the main concerns voiced at the children’s desk, particularly when children are moving from the children’s to the young adults’ collection, sexual/gender orientation and religious affiliation are the clearest targets for the ire of the past year. In the world of children’s books, sexual orientation is often mislabelled as sexual content, and recast as propaganda. Two diverse children’s picture books on this year’s list highlight the two-faced nature of a number of the associated arguments.
In King & King, by Linda de Haan and Stern Nijland (Tricycle Press, 2000)], a picture of two princes kissing at their wedding was cited by social conservatives in the US as “gay-rights movements undermining religious freedom”, pitting the rights and freedom of one set against another. The thing about rights and freedom is, they belong to all, not some, and are designed not to restrict, but to liberate people of all stripes.
The Librarian of Basra: a True Story From Iraq, by Jeannette Winter (Harcourt, 2005) shows how religious freedom is often claimed to be the sole dominion of one sect at the expense of all others. (That is not religious freedom, but religious limitation.) It was challenged in Duval County, Florida, in the past year because a coalition of parents objected to its “promotion” (ie. depiction) of a religion other than Christianity. I have long been using this true story about a librarian who sneaks books out of a library during the US bombings in Iraq as an example of the importance of protecting all histories, not just those we see fit to protect.
Alia Muhammad Baker (also spelled Baqer) was the chief librarian in the Al Basrah Central Library, Basra, Iraq. Baker saved an estimated 30,000 books from destruction during the Iraq War, including a biography of Muhammad from circa 1300. Baker been working at the library for 14 years when war with the US and UK loomed. When government officials turned down her requests for the books to be moved to safety, locals helped her smuggle the books out, and store them in the dining room of the restaurant next door. Before the library was destroyed, Baker had rescued 70% of the library's collection - 30,000 books - including English and Arabic books and a Spanish language Koran. (The library was later rebuilt, and Baker reinstated as Chief Librarian.)
I like to imagine the world’s library collections are all protected by those who would do exactly the same if their library’s books were threatened, but I’d prefer to not have to test that theory. So, next time you’re celebrating the freedom to read (or not read) whatever you do or don’t like, remember to extend that courtesy to your neighbours.
For more banned books, follow Porirua Library on pinterest.
Elisabetta Dami and Geronimo Stilton
I am currently in the process of topping up the Geronimo Stilton series again, and have paused to consider their massive popularity at Porirua Library. What is the secret to their success, and who is Geronimo Stilton – really? (Life spoiler: this entry contains real world secrets. It seems like a good point to remind readers that the target audience of this kids’-lit-centric blog is adults, as I don’t want to dash any imaginative and well-cultivated illusions. What you do with the information you are about to read is up to your discretion. I feel a bit like Homer Simpson outing “the chick in The Crying Game” even writing this.)
You would be hard pressed to find a millennial child who can’t tell you who Geronimo Stilton is. The director of Mouse Island’s Rodent Gazette, and the most famous mouse since Mickey, receives letters by the thousand, all of which are replied to. There is no question that his authorship is not authentic. Just ask his self-dubbed “collaborator” Elizabetta Dami.
The 58 year-old Italian author’s name is considerably less well known than that of the mouse she initially invented to give sick children in the hospitals she volunteered in the happy endings she believes we are all in search of. Having written around 300 books, she has plenty of practice providing them.
Shy and reserved, she has long avoided public events. A rare appearance at Forum IMPULSA 2012 provided a fascinating peek into the cheddariffic life of an author enjoying a success she says she could never have imagined. She supplied the “lucky recipe” which has seen Geronimo Stilton titles sell over 100-million copies in 150 countries and 40 different languages, and become a television series and a musical theatre production.
Ingredients for a wildly successful children’s fiction series are as follows:
1) Write from the heart.
2) Never separate yourself from your reader.
3) Always write with joy, and a song in your heart.
4) Have the support of a large and loving team.
She returned constantly to the importance of collaboration - between her, her team, and the mouse - in achieving “this miracle of amazing commercial success”. It is joins a host of positive, universal values central to Stilton plots: respect for nature, elders and one another, peace in the world, engagement, honesty, sincerity, co-operation, and diversity.
Dami claims to be happy with her slippers on, in front of the fireplace, with her cat, a good book, and a cup of tea, but she (like Stilton) is an intrepid traveller. She has climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, run marathons in both New York and the Sahara Desert, parachuted, and earned a pilot’s license.
Although pained to discover she could not have children of her own, she now considers herself to be a mother thanks to the millions of children around the world reading her books. Harking back to the days when she told the stories to give hope to sick children, she says, “The stories were healing the children, and they were healing me too.”
She urges her readers to collaborate in her ultimate goal of keeping hope alive. International success has taught her, “We are all one.”
Stay tuned for the arrival of the latest influx of new Geronimo Stilton books at Porirua Library. Reservations recommended.
With the New Zealand Children’s Book Awards for Children and Young Adults soon to be announced, favourites are being picked, and not only by the judges, and the voters of the Hell Pizza Children’s Choice Awards. Although I can never be relied upon to select only one favourite – talk about murdering your darlings! – I have to confess to a soft spot for Kyle Mewburn and Sarah Davis’s sensationally scary The House on the Hill.
Largely executed in sepia tones, it reminds me of a Hallowe’en nearly 40 years ago, where my local Girl Guide and Brownie troops were invited to an actual crumbling three-storey family homestead, abandoned on a lonely hill on the farm of the our Brown Owl. (She looked nothing like the owls in this book.) There was no electricity, but the ingenuity of the parents who had prepared the house turned this into a total bonus. Dressed as a witch, in black crepe paper that bled ink onto my jeans underneath when I fell in a boggy hollow, I will never forget the thrill of feeling like I had worked into an actual scary story. Even remembering how I woke the next day with some sort of allergic reaction that had caused one side of my face to swell up like a balloon was not enough to dim the joy of the memory.
I particularly love the spread in The House on the Hill which shows the face of a smiling child peeping out from between the buttons of his headless pumpkin man costume, the first hint the assembled ghouls might be friendly. This is followed by a spread showing an impressive array of monsters giving it their best grimaces, then a wordless spread of them all in colour, revealing the faces and gestures of friendly recognition, that tell us this is going to be one howl of a party.
New to the Emergent Readers collection is another book that uses scares to entice its readers along, and has earned many fans for doing so since its original publication date in 1984. In A Dark, Dark Room and Other Stories, retold by Alvin Schwartz with pictures by Dirk Zimmer, features dark traditional tales that are short and sharp enough to stick in the memory, and beg for repeat torchlight telling. In the same vein, I also like Never Kick a Ghost and Other Silly Chillers, by Judy Sierrra, with pictures by Pascale Constantin. Both are published in the iconic I Can Read! series at Level 2 (Reading With Help).
One thing you won’t find much of in these I Can Read! spookers is comforting happy endings. It’s the danger element that gives them hooks, and the hooks that provide the compulsion to retell them. Such are the makings of favourite tales. My teenage daughter still fondly recalls "The Green Ribbon" from Dark, Dark Room, in which a woman wears a green ribbon around her neck her whole life for a very important reason. (Plot spoiler: it’s keeping her head on.)
While some may question the need for kids’ books to be frightening, it is the very fact that the frights are confined to the imaginary world, safely trapped between the covers, that allows the young reader to practise bravery within safe boundaries. Courage is a great quality for a child to develop, something even the luckiest of us do better employing.
At nine years old, my son has to muster up every shred of bravery he possesses to examine his older sister’s treasured hand-me-down Goosebumps collection. He dreams of the day he’ll be brave enough to dare reading one from start-to-finish, but for now, he is satisfied with learning all he can from the lurid covers and the blurbs on the back. These books are absolutely not allowed in his bedroom with him. He knows his boundaries because he set them himself. I trust this behaviour will serve him well in the future in many ways.
Remember, where a shadow is seen, a light must be shining. And if it’s a torch light under the blankets of someone addicted to reading thrilling books after lights out… I can think of worse crimes. Don't make reading one of them.
Harry Potter’s 36th birthday is going to be a huge celebration for fans around the world. Library staff and booksellers worldwide are bracing themselves for the July 31 release date of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. The eighth book in the phenomenally successful series is the script of the two-part play of the same name, which opens in London on the book release/birthday eve. The play was written by Jack Thorne, based on an original short story by JK Rowling, and the book is written by John Tiffany and Jack Thorne. The struggle to claim their writerly rights in the public mind will probably start when we shelve the books under ROW for Rowling so as not to separate it from the series (yes, I truly believe Porirua Library practices are internationally influential).
I have just ordered 10 copies of the new book, and put the first two Porirua reserves on SMART copies that have beat mine to the system. The Porirua reserves were numbers 32 and 33. Our copies join 17 already on-line, thanks to Kapiti and Lower Hutt Libraries. It’s easy for a librarian to get fixated over numbers when they are as unusually high and fast growing, particularly so far ahead of the release date, as this. I have never ordered that many copies of a single title before, and am quite prepared to believe that, even though it is twice the usual absolute maximum copies ordered, I may need to purchase more.
JK Rowling’s seven Harry Potter novels, based on a really ‘big idea’ she had at an absolutely ‘rock bottom’ time in her life, rank as the best-selling book series of all time. More than 450-million Harry Potter books have been sold worldwide, and the last four books in the series broke records for fastest-sales too.
Book sales were helped by film tie-ins that became the second biggest franchise in cinema history (beaten only by the enormous body of the Marvel Cinematic Universe). For a little perspective, consider that the least popular of the Harry Potter films (The Prisoner of Azkaban) made $(US)90-million more than the most successful Twilight Saga movie (Breaking Dawn: Part 2).
This year Harry Potter himself topped the list of Top 10 Heroes of Children’s Literature. His arch enemy, Lord Voldemort, topped the list of Top 10 Villains.
The new book is set in the “all was well” where we last left the adult Harry (image below). He and his wife Ginny (nee-Weasley) were waving their middle-child (Albus Severus) off to attend his first term at Hogwarts. Eldest son James is already at the school, along with Ron’s daughter Rose, and Draco Malfoy’s ‘little Scorpius’.
Previews of the two-parts of the play have shown in London already, but Rowling has begged secrecy of all who’ve seen it.
If you have any interest in what will certainly be one of the biggest book releases ever, now is the time to place a reserve on Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. It is also as good an excuse as any to change over to (or sign up for) a SMART Library card if you have not yet done so. A SMART Library card gives you access to books from all the consortia libraries, which can increase the speed at which your reserves will arrive when an item is very popular. Short of pre-ordering and purchasing your own copy of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, only Owl Post could get it to you any quicker than we can.
School librarians on a mailing list I am addicted to recently began a conversation about a monster on the loose in their libraries.The monster is called BYOD – aka Bring Your Own Device. Reports regarding how students are using this by-now commonly adopted practise have a common theme. Book issues are dropping, noise levels are rising, and generally less reading is getting done.
Of course, in public libraries, BYOD is a given as much as almost everywhere else. This is unsurprising when a recent survey noted found the following:
25% of people could not remember a time they had been separated from their device
63% of smartphone owners keep them at hand for all but an hour a day
79% of smartphone owners keep them on hand for all but two hours a day
Good news for marketers, but my area of concern is the affect this is having on children.
First of all, we know children copy what adults do. The view from the children’s library service desk and story chair tells me that what many adults do most of the time is interact with their smartphones. Recently, I had the chance to observe a mother and child for half an hour, alerted to my task by the wee boy’s constant call of, “Look, Mum.” Pre-programmed to that particular call as I am, I kept looking, but mine was the only gaze he was getting.
He was playing with the blocks, very proud of the story he was creating. I began to notice that his mother was verbally answering him, but with minimal eye contact. I gave her the benefit of my creeping doubt for 20 minutes before having a legitimate excuse to wander by and see if I could ascertain was more important than her son. Well, I wish I could tell you, but as I’ve never played a game on a smartphone in my life, I can’t. Something to do with coloured shapes being manipulated around an enclosed space. A bit like what her son was doing, except smaller, colder, and without as much soul. I doubted it would make her a mother’s day card either.
From the moment they are born, babies require the attention of their parents to thrive. The 'still-face experiments' of the 1970s highlighted the potentially damaging emotional, developmental and social impact that could be caused by a mother withholding appropriate facial expressions. Modern studies have further shown how affect mirroring, in which the parent reacts to her baby with enhanced levels of attentiveness, is highly beneficial to babies’ social development.
A recent study of families in fast food restaurants showed that 70 percent of parents were distracted by their devices during their meal. In the meantime, their children complained and misbehaved, chucking wobblies and food at their parents. Similarly disruptive behaviours (usually without the food) can be observed at library story times by children whose caregivers park and leave them for the librarian to handle.
To enlighten the vocal few for whom it clearly needs to be stated: librarians are not substitute caregivers. Librarians are reading role models, wide opening gatekeepers to the wonderful world of literacy. Surrogate parenting children abandoned in favour of gossip sessions (the original social networking) and digital devices makes our job more difficult than we would like it to. After all – who signs on to be a children’s librarian if not to have the most fun job on earth?
I don’t believe it is enough to simply bring your child to the library. If you come to story time, model the behaviour you expect your child to adopt. If they see you engaged and joining in, they will be engaged and join in. If you are getting some downtime in the picture book area, use it to show the kids what you would like their downtime to look like – grab a book or a magazine on your way down the aisle. Even better, use the time for an extended private story time (we librarians get a great deal of pleasure from hearing you read too!). Let the physical library environment be one place life doesn’t have to be lived through an electronic portal.
Do your kids - your librarians, and your fellow customers - a favour, and (unless you are using it to show us pictures of books you are looking for, your kids in costume for Book Day, or any of the other legitimately handy and interesting things smartphones can be used for) don’t bring your own device to the library. Let’s make the children’s library a monster-free zone.
On the eve of the ANZAC weekend, it is fitting to have a new Glyn Harper and Jenny Cooper book to recommend. Gladys Goes to War tells the story of a heroine you will wonder why you’ve never met before. Gladys Sandford, is described in the Australian Dictionary of Biography as simply ‘motorist’. And what a motorist she was!
When Gladys’ husband enlisted in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF) in 1914, she offered her services as a motor driver. The cursory response she received read: 'This will be a short war and women will not be needed. If you want to help the war effort you should stay at home and knit socks and balaclavas.' But Gladys was simply not the staying home type.
She paid her own passage, sailed to Egypt with the Volunteer Sisterhood, and worked as a driver at the Ghaza hospital. Reaching England, she was employed by the Motor Transport Section of the NZEF in May 1917. She rose to be head ‘lady driver’, but contracted influenza and was discharged in January 1919. She was appointed MBE in 1920.
Gladys Goes to War adds to a significant list of collaborations between the author/illustrator duo of Harper and Cooper, and a larger body of work with a war focus for Harper himself.
Harper is Professor of War Studies at Massey University in Palmerston North. He is also Massey Project Manager of the Centenary History of the New Zealand and the First World War. He was the Director of the Centre for Defence and Security Studies for eight years prior to his University posting. Formerly a secondary school teacher, Harper joined the Australian Army in 1988, eventually transferring to the New Zealand Army, where he reached the rank of lieutenant colonel. He was the New Zealand army’s official historian for the deployment to East Timor. He is the author of more than twenty books for children and adults, including many best sellers. He was awarded the Queen’s Services Medal in 2012, for services to historical research.
Jenny Cooper is an award-winning and prolific illustrator of more than 70 children's books. She was honoured as one of New Zealand's foremost illustrators with the presentation of the Arts Foundation Mallinson Rendel Illustrators Award in 2015.
Together, Harper and Cooper have proven remarkably consistent at producing top works in the sophisticated picture book line over the past few years. Titles preceding Gladys Goes to War (2016) include: Roly the ANZAC Donkey (2015), Jim’s Letters (2014), and Le Quesnoy: the Story of the Town New Zealand Saved (2012). Roly the ANZAC Donkey is a 2016 Storylines Notable Picture Book. Jim’s Letters won Best Picture Book at the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults in 2015, and a Storylines Notable Picture Book in the same year.
Their collaborations are exceptional in not only their narrative rendering of historical events and (sometimes little known) historical players, but also in the deep emotional impact they elicit. I will never forget the story times Sally ran for the centenary of ANZAC day last year, when she got so emotionally involved during one reading of Jim’s Letters, she had to allow a teacher to take over. With barely a dry eye in the house, the kids learned a powerful lesson that sometimes tears are the only appropriate reaction to a sad story.
Another respectful resource to discover in this time of memorial is the ANZAC Special Issue of the fantastic new Toitoi journal (pictured left, featuring 11 year-old Stella Hinton's striking illustration). Toitoi is a wonderful quarterly publication of writing and art by New Zealand children ages 5-13. Handsome production pays respect to the works of its talented young author/illustrators over 100 pages, giving them both purpose and exposure to a wide audience. For submission details visit Toitoi online. Porirua Library holds a subscription with items available for issue, and housed with the children’s magazines.
Lest we forget.
Louise Coigley is a UK-based speech and language therapist/storyteller who specialises in drawing out the voices of the differently abled - their way - using a method of live inclusive storytelling she calls Lis’n Tell. Currently on tour in New Zealand, she visits Porirua Library on March 17 for two shows. First she will present Oi! Get off Our Train for an invited audience from Porirua School and the Mahinawa Specialist School and Resource Centre. Later, at 5.30PM, she will give a free performance of her show Foibles and Fables – the misadventures of a speech and language therapist – which introduces a host of colourful characters, and is aimed at ages 15 and older. This second show will be of particular interest to anyone working, living, or familiar with children and adults with unique needs. She took time out of her busy touring schedule to explain how she came into her unique line of work.
What were the factors that lead you to focusing your storytelling on differently abled people?
“I was living with adults with 'special needs' in my thirties, and we went to a storytelling performance by the founder of the International School of Storytelling, Ashley Ramsden. I was inspired, but very self-conscious about 'performing’. About that time, I also was reading the work of two women: Sylvia Ashton Warner and Dorothy Heathcote. They spoke my language, about child-led education, which I wanted to inform speech and language therapy. Their methods of dynamic vocabulary and creating context to show the children as experts galvanised me into forging my method of live inclusive storytelling.”
How do you mentally and logistically prepare yourself for an audience with varying levels of needs?
“I find out as much about them beforehand as I can. Sometimes this just isn't possible, for example at an arts festival workshop or performance. So, I walk in 'cold' but with a huge warmth of interest in them and their interests and trusting them - and the story. I choose a story to tell relevant to the ages of the participants, with appropriate challenges, issues and humour that may engage them. I also choose my props very carefully: a rainbow stick, windscreen wiper glasses; a hula hoop and translucent materials that I can layer to make glowing colours, and many others, mostly objects that can become many things. I forget any anxiety once I meet and experience the responses of the participants...I never cease to be amazed at how individual they all are and how the method works!"
Do you follow a personal set of commandments that allows you to level the playing field for your audience members?
“First and foremost, my attitude is that everyone is a star. My job is to form a structure that motivates them and enables them to be at ease and themselves. Part of my goal is to let them show what they already know, which they often don't if too confronted, and to support them in developing according to their choices. Some may prefer a special sound or feeling, others a particular prop, some may love the chanting and rhythm. All together a spontaneous community can emerge.”
Can you share a success story that stands out for you in terms of proving storytelling has the power to tear down walls other methods cannot?
“The most frequent feedback I get from parents, teachers and speech and language therapists is that students who have not previously responded in group situations start to interact, often very quickly, and this is deeply gratifying for all. It can work with individuals and groups. One speech and language therapist emailed me about a little girl who had previously only been heard to speak one-word utterances. During the first Lis'n Tell session, this little girl, wearing a princess crown, spontaneously started to put four words together, with no direct prompting. Another team, working with small children with language delay in inner city London, a very socio-economically deprived area, reported that parents suddenly started to bring their children regularly. Some started to turn the TV off in the evening because they preferred dong 'that story stuff'.”
Louise’s work is renowned for its ability to enable ‘the unexpected outcome’ with audiences for whom communication can be challenging. She is also running a two-day workshop aimed at teaching the Lis’n Tell method to New Zealand teachers, speech and language therapists, and storytellers working with the differently abled or - as she likes to call them – “my teachers”. For more information on the Porirua Library shows, contact email@example.com . For more information on Louise’s workshop, which happens March 15 and 16, contact In the Belly of the Whale School of Storytelling’s Judith Frost Evans at firstname.lastname@example.org .
A-Long Hot Summer Story Festival may be over for our record-breaking 465 best friends and their keepers, but we behind the scenes we are still busy assessing how things went. We have been happily overwhelmed with the unprecedented demand for our Porirua unique festival this year. We are in the inviting, collecting and collating feedback stage now. The most common theme is that everyone is already looking forward to doing it again next year.
I am having a great time archiving photos and sending artwork and competition entries to the various places and people that inspired them. A lot of work the children have done will end up on the Junior Journal. Below, for posterity’s sake, is the story co-written by the participants of the Porirua Library and Book Island Friend-Along - a festival highlight for me. It is interesting to note how closely the story hove to the original from which the illustration that inspired it was taken – although the technological bent is unique to ours (thanks for seeding that Fiona Stodart!).
So, without further adieu, may I present an original work by A-Long Hot Summer Story Festival fans…
A baby bird flying through a cloud during her flock’s annual migration was caught in a gust of wind. She became confused and fell to the ground.
Fortunately, she found a huge tree in the middle of a well-kept farm field in which to make her nest.
Unfortunately, the tree was about to be chopped down for firewood that very day.
The next day, as a sunny autumn breeze blew, the tame farmer lion who owned the field came to collect his firewood. He found the bird lying helpless by the tree stump. He brought her inside his house, and made her a new home in a basket in his lounge. As the days grew colder, he had plenty of wood to keep the room cosy with a fire. He was a vegetarian, so she was quite safe. He nursed her back to health.
As the baby bird grow stronger, the tame farmer lion knew it was time to teach her to fly. Outside he would hold her high and run up and down, while she learned to flap her wings. Then one day – too soon- as the leaves turned red, the baby bird’s flock appeared on the horizon. She lifted off, high out of the tame farmer lion’s hands, soaring into the sky to join them.
“Goodbye! Goodbye!,” cried the tame farmer lion. “Thank you for being my friend!”
“I’ll tweet you!,” the bird called back. “We won’t have to miss each other at all!”
And they did tweet, because not only was the lion tame and a farmer, and not only was the bird brave (even if she wouldn’t be a baby for much longer), they were both computer savvy, and knew their way around social media. His computer and her mobile device binged and bonged happily many times a day – the tame farmer lion reporting the latest developments on the farm, and the brave baby bird sending news of her travels.
And so another year went by, less lonely.
The next autumn, as a sunny breeze stirred his curtains, the tame farmer lion heard a tweeting that was not coming from his computer, but outside his door. He opened it to find not only the brave baby bird – now quite grown - on his doorstep, but her whole flock too.
They hugged gently.
“You look even more grown up than your selfies,” said the tame farmer lion.
“The farm looks even more beautiful than your nature shots,” said the brave bird.
“Thank you for being my friend,” they both said at exactly the same time as each other, the way friends sometimes do.
That was the third of many happy autumns to come for the tame farmer lion and the family of the brave baby bird.
If you liked this story, check out The Lion and the Bird, by Marianne Dubuc (Book Island, 2015), which is the source of the illustration that inspired it.
Just when you thought you’d seen the best of A-Long Hot Summer Story Festival in the spectacular programming of the last few weeks, we turn up the excitment factor another notch with Delightful Tales of Danger and Daring! This all-ages show is devised and performed by leading theatrical storytellers Ralph Rositer-Doister (aka Ralph Johnson) and Nancy Fancy-Pants (aka Nancy Fulford). It offers tales of imperfect heroes and heroines -making mistakes, but scraping through by virtue of lashings of courage, caring and determination... and maybe a little magic.
A storyteller with 35 years experience in New Zealand and abroad, Ralph Roister-Doister long ago rejected the "sensible" life in favour of a living happily after telling stories, acting in plays, films and television, and living in Pukerua Bay.
Nancy Fancy-Pants sings, dances, and loves telling fun fibs to marks of all sizes. She has been teaching and entertaining – as an improv actor and storyteller - since leaving her home in Canada nearly 30 years ago. She currently heads the Dance and Drama department at Wellington East Girls' College. She and Ralph both perform with Playback Theatre and Just Giraffe Children’s Theatre Company.
Today, they verse one in another, in a tag team getting-to-know-you interview.
Ralph - describe your very first ever impression of Nancy.
‘Wow!! who is that woman?? She's so cool and fancy, I bet she doesn’t even notice me.’
Nancy - describe your very first ever impression of Ralph
‘Fireworks - I thought, “This guy is a real firecracker of a story teller - he pops, he fizzes, he sparkles.”'
Ralph - describe Nancy using words of only one syllable each
‘Nancy loves to dress up, loves to have fun, can do big burps, and her sneeze goes on for a long time, and is so loud it is no use to try to talk till it’s done.’
Nancy - describe Ralph using words of no less than three syllables each
‘Interesting, scintillating, dastardly devilishly daring sort of guy.’
Ralph, why is Nancy better than television?
‘Nancy is better than TV because I don’t have a TV, but I have Nancy as a friend. And, anyway, with Nancy there are no ad’s!’
Nancy, why is Ralph better than You Tube?
‘He is way better because he is three dimensional for starters, and he has a big heart and is therefore warm. You Tube is fun but it doesn't have a temperature. It’s just flashing lights. Ralph is really real and he make you feel really real.’
Ralph - what do you like best about working with Nancy?
‘What I like best about working with Nancy is: she has lots of ideas that are different to mine, so we complement each other and she has as much energy as I do, so that when we work together, its more like playing together.’
Nancy - what do you like best about working with Ralph?
‘Ralph is a cool cat. He knows how to play and laugh and be serious when that’s a smart thing. Ralph is da bomb - big, little, soft and strong and everything in between.’
Delightful Tales of Danger and Daring! hits the Performing Arts Studio (Porirua Library), this Wednesday, January 20, at 2PM. All welcome. For more storytelling action later in the week, don’t miss Judith Jones on Friday, January 22 (see below for full details).
Storyteller and planet saver Judith Jones at Titahi Bay
Judith Jones is a spinner of stories who plies her considerable talents as a Te Papa host by day, and a storyteller whenever else she can fit it in. She has enchanted by candlelight at the Kapiti Storytelling Circle, and is firm fixture of the Wellington Storytellers Café. She is a strong supporter of the aims of Zero Waste Porirua, who are sponsoring her mini-tour of Porirua Public Library branches on Friday, January 22. The tales she tells will focus on the small things even the smallest of us can do to make a difference to life on Earth. Children will leave her story/craft sessions with the satisfaction that they can be the change they want to see in this world, as Gandhi famously put it. She chatted with me recently about the power of low-tech entertainment, and how she applies the Zero Waste principles in her own life.
Storytelling vs. Television – pretend it’s a celebrity wrestling match, and tell me which medium wins and how.
“When I was a small girl, we lived in London for a couple of years. I remember experiencing storytelling and television watching very clearly from that time.
“Storytelling was like tag team wrestling. Like you’re in the ring too. In the car, as my father spun a tale to keep us from grouching and wriggling, we were all part of it, that magic story ‘between’ space. We could ask questions and add bits, with the story filling the car and my mind. (Long running serial over this time, the adventures of Wriggly, Wriggly Real Eel. It took us to my father’s childhood playground, the beach, farmlands and small town streets of Ōtaki.)
“Television was the solo star wrestling performance. It did things, I was the audience. Watching, listening. I was outside the ring. No-one would talk back to my questions. (I vividly remember a piece set to Acker Bilk’s ‘Stranger on the Shore’ – with a crab that walked sideways when everyone else went straight. As a newcomer to the city and my school, I felt close to the crab. But it was behind a screen – literally and figuratively.)”
If you had the power to don a cape and fly to an area of urgent concern, anywhere on this planet, where would it be?
“I’ve always loved the line, ‘All things bright and beautiful.’ It hurts me when things are broken or ripped from where they should be, or unable to thrive in their own natural space. My cape would take me everywhere from down our bank to stop the ivy strangling the kowhai we planted to feed the bees and birds, to out over the Pacific to clean up the awful island of plastic that twirls and turns in its waters.”
What are your go-to ways to ‘be the change you want to see’ in this world on a daily basis?
“I buy things with intention. I try to be clear about why I want them, why I think I need them and what both those expressions mean in each purchasing context. Before Christmas, I did a lot of thinking about why I was getting things! Also, I’m conscious of the value I’m placing on things I buy by using what I earn to acquire them, and treat them with care, using them up efficiently (like food) or making them last (like clothes).
“I try to rehome things that I no longer need. It’s a delight to be able to say ‘Yes!’ when someone asks, “Does anyone have…?” Swapping is great too. It’s a sort of trickle across theory, from hand to hand and use to use. Very satisfying.”
You can help Judith Jones save the planet on January 22 at Cannons Creek Library (11.30AM), Porirua Library (1.30PM), and Whitby Library (3.30PM).
Granny McGreedy, by Stu Duval
One of the highlights of A-Long Hot Summer Story Festival this year is sure to be master storyteller/author/artist/all-round inspiration Stu Duval’s performance of his own adventure tale, Capt. Black Custard. Stu’s unique performances combine his skills in visual art, oral storytelling and drama. He travels the country weaving his original tales into a one-hour-one-man shows, that have audience sobbing one minute, and cheering the next. He incorporates live art into his performances to stunning effect, creating dazzling paintings in minutes, or spontaneously drawing hilarious cartoon caricatures to illustrate his tales. Standing ovations follow. Stu Duval really is a story teller like no other. He took time out from completing his forthcoming children's novel to answer a few questions for us.
What is the difference between an audience held in the palm of a storyteller’s hand, and a solitary individual making the shape of a question mark in front of their personal You Tube broadcast device?
“Storytelling is tribal. It works best when shared with a tribe. The tribe laughs, the tribe weeps, the tribe rejoices. A story is a journey shared and, once it is finished, all those who have participated, the teller and the listener, have become one. One tribe.”
You’re an artist in so many fields – can you tell us one thing you stink at?
“I can’t play the bagpipes, nor can I grasp quantum psychics. And I’m not much good at ballet.”
Who did you look to as career role models as you built your unique way of showing and telling?
“My great grandfather was a circus and vaudeville entertainer and impresario. He travelled the entire world performing – and oh, the tales he told! I guess I have a bit of his DNA.”
With the publication of Alveridgea and the Legend of the Lonely Dog, you riffed on the iconic illustrations of Ivan Clarke to present a timeless tale that transcends age boundaries. Do you and Ivan have any plans to take us back to that magical land of cats, dogs and the blues?
“Alveridgea is certainly a magical place! Sunsets that look like God’s spilt paint box and honky-tonk music that seeps out of every crack and cranny, sweet as marmalade pie. There is an old Alveridgean proverb that says: 'Never wake an old hound sleeping on a porch, for he’s probably chasing a cat in his dreams.’ Ivan and I are both still dreaming on that porch at the moment. On day, when the time is right, we’ll get up, and stretch, and scratch our fleas, and write a sequel.”
It’s such a musical world. I would love to hear it soundtracked. Which musicians do you draw inspiration from ?
“Musical Storytellers: Tom Waits, Lyle Lovett, Gordon Lightfoot, Indigo Girls.”
Your new junior novel The Golden Sparkplug of Awesomeness is more than awesome - it's incredible. How long must we wait for more where it came from?
“I am busy writing the next instalment now! It’s called The Giant Gear Stick of Grooviness. It’s packed with a great contingent of wacky characters, like Crocbelly Burt and Granny McGreedy. I’ll have the book and illustrations complete by the end of the year. Publication is due early 2016.”
Come and see Stu doing his very unique thing, when he performs Capt. Black Custard - a rollicking tale of culinary adventure on the high seas as the Pudding Pirates search for the perfect pud’ - at A-Long Hot Summer Story Festival on January 7 at 2PM. We are also very lucky to be hosting Stu for a writing workshop – How to Write Awesomely Awesome Stuff! – on January 8, 2PM-3.30PM. To RSVP for the workshop, email email@example.com . RSVPs are not required for the Capt. Black Custard show. To be in to win a copy of The Golden Sparkplug of Aweseomeness, see your A-Long Hot Summer Story Festival booklet.
Crocbelly Burt, by Stu Duval
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