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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The past school holidays saw Porirua Libraries Read Around the World, with the help of our previously featured guest Gillian Candler (see last month's entry) representing New Zealand, and a very special new children’s publisher representing farther afield. In the first week at the Main Library, we shone a light on stories from Tiny Owl Publishing. Based in the UK, Tiny Owl arrived on the scene just two years ago, but have already made a significant positive impact with their catalogue. They have published an array of thought provoking picture books by a mix of established and new Iranian authors and illustrators, many of which will be entirely new to Western audiences. Some titles are newly commissioned, but Persian classics like The Parrot and the Merchant, by Rumi, and Bijan and Manije, adapted from the epic Book of Kings/Shahnameh, (both illustrated by Marjan Vafaian), also feature. They have begun developing a programme of cross-cultural work, uniting authors and illustrators from around the world. The first work in this project is A Bottle of Happiness, which pairs UK author Pippa Goodhart with Iranian illustrator Ehsan Abdollahi.
I contacted Tiny Owl founder Delaram Ghanimifard to ask if we could have permission to feature Ehsan’s Bottle of Happiness artwork in our programme, and she was most gracious in allowing this. I was delighted, as that book joins When I Coloured in the World (written by Ahmadreza Ahmadi, and also illustrated by Ehsan) on my current list of must-reads. I’ve plugged the latter on the latest You Really Ought to Read slot on the Children’s Library page, citing a strange cultural affinity in the way its pictures remind me of the iconic New Zealand-made Ready to Read series from the mid-1960s that included The Sweet Porridge and The Hungry Lambs titles, with their kaleidoscopic backgrounds, and vintage-styled décor, dress and furnishings.
Days after exchanging emails with Delaram, I heard from our friend Greet Pauwelijn at Book Island, another small but mighty publishing house that has done a great deal to introduce non-English texts to English-reading audiences. Book Island relocated from their local home in Raumati to Bristol in the UK early last year, but still keep up with us. When Greet saw we were featuring Tiny Owl books for our holiday programme, she emailed to ask me if I’d made Delaram’s acquaintance. She said the two of them were about to be guests on a panel at the Federation of Children’s Book Groups Around the World conference in Reading in April. Seeing Iranian Delaram and Belgian Greet pictured together (left to right, at left) in the UK days after they had both communicated with me in New Zealand gave me faith it really is a small world after all.
While doing a great deal to represent the diverse nature of the globe, Tiny Owl books (like Book Island books) bring us closer together as human beings. As Hans Christian Andersen Medal-winner (and another of my favourite authors) David Almond said in a laudatory piece about them for The Guardian: ‘This is how to improve the world, to help dispel clouds of confusion and misunderstanding, and to bring us closer together, story by story, image by image, child by child.’
Search Tiny Owl under the publisher tab of our catalogue, and prepare to be delighted. I’ll be checking in with Greet and letting you know what’s new with Book Island next month.
Award-winning local children’s author Gillian Candler returns to Porirua Library next week, to deliver the close-to-home session of our Read Around the World school holiday programme. Her visit coincides with the release of her latest book with Fraser Williamson, Whose Feet are These?, which repeats the format of their previous book, Whose Beak is This? When she is not writing or working on her publishing consultancy business, Gillian volunteers with Friends of Mana Island, which has kept her busy over the last couple of months monitoring lizards.
“I’m counting and identifying skinks and geckos,” she says. “It’s quite hard to identify the different species of skinks so I have had a lot to learn. I was lucky enough to see gold-striped geckos on the weekend!”
You are coming to talk to us about beaks and feet these holidays. Can you tell us an interesting case of adaptation regarding each?
“Wrybill birds have the most peculiar beaks, their beaks curve sideways so they can slip them easily under stones to hook out food. They are quite rare and I’ve only ever seen one wrybill. I’d love to be able to watch them using those strange beaks.
“I’ve seen lots of geckos, they are one of my favourite animals. Geckos have extraordinary feet. Their feet are ‘sticky’ which makes it possible for them to walk upside down on ceilings.”
If you could put yourself in the body of any animal/bird/reptile/insect, which would you choose, and why?
“What a great question, no one has ever asked that before. An albatross would be a pretty amazing animal to be, flying around the world over the sea. Or a dolphin hanging out with its family and playing in the waves. But most of all I think I’d like to be a Tokoeka, or Stewart Island kiwi. They live in the forest but also spend time at the beach, which sounds pretty good to me, and unlike other kiwi they are out and about during the daytime as well as at night.”
Is the work you do today – volunteering, researching, and writing about New Zealand wildlife - what you imagined you would be doing when you were a child?
“I always wanted to be a writer, but I never imagined I’d also be doing things like identifying lizards, trapping predators and working with wild birds.”
What do you consider the most essential trait for a nature writer to possess?
“Curiosity, curiosity and more curiosity! Nature writers need to be curious about the world around them, and ask lots of questions about what they see. It also helps to have a sense of wonder. The more I find out, the more I am in awe of the amazing adaptations in nature.”
What do you think is the most important message to pass on to younger generations about their environment?
“I’d like people (including young people) to think of themselves as guardians of the environment, rather than simply users of the environment. There’s been a lot of talk lately about whether rivers are swimmable for humans, but to me that misses the point. Rivers need to be clean for the wildlife that lives there. The world need this diversity of wildlife - every snail and tiny fish has a role to play in the ecosystem.
“Also, it is easy to get upset about the state of the environment, so I’d urge young people to keep positive and look for the good that is being done and find things that they can do which make a difference.”
Gillian will spark your sense of wonder about the world around you at her April 19 sessions: Porirua Library, 10.30AM; Cannons Creek Library, 1.30PM; and Whitby Library, 3.30PM. Do join us.
Children’s author, mother, wife, film-maker, ‘not exactly a memoir’ writer, and ‘ordinary person’ Amy Krouse Rosenthal has died. I shed a tear on hearing the news last Tuesday, because I had her most recent book, That’s Me Loving You (Random House, 2016) scheduled to read at Story World, that week. I’d enjoyed it for the many ways it reminded me of how a mother loves her child even when she is not with them. With a dedication to her three children included, I had not realised it was a kind of goodbye letter. She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2015.
The last time she made me cry was when I read her book Uni the Unicorn (Random House, 2014) to an audience of parents and children and noticed one of the mamas crying. Amy was a master generator of happy tears. I challenge anyone to watch her social media documentary project The Beckoning of Lovely without feeling their eyes prick.
In their announcement of her death, The Sun dubbed her ‘tragic Amy’ in a caption. I’d like to think this was their mistake. In the same article they quoted her agent, Amy Rennert, as saying, “Everything Amy did was love and life affirming.
“She was such a bright light with a great sense of wonder. She taught us that life’s seemingly small moments are not really small at all. Amy’s final essay, written under the most difficult of circumstances — a love letter to her husband Jason — was the ultimate gift to him."
‘I have never been on Tinder,’ Amy wrote, in the essaay 'You May Want to Marry My Husband', ‘but I’m going to create a general profile for Jason right here, based on my experience of coexisting in the same house with him for, like, 9,490 days.’ She left the reader a blank space at the end of the essay ‘as a way of giving you two the fresh start you deserve’.
The essay was published in the New York Times on March 3, and she was gone 10 days later.
Rennert said Amy had completed seven more picture books before her death, including a collaboration with her daughter called Dear Girl.
‘I have not survived against all odds / I have not lived to tell,’ Amy wrote in Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life (2005). The words seem poignantly prescient now. However, Amy’s legacy lives on in all of her books, and numerous TED talks that will inspire her work to keep working, in your life and the lives of those this will cause you to touch.
If you haven’t met her yet, begin The Beckoning of Lovely here. You will be glad you did.
Author Gay Hay in the Story Chair
A-Long Hot Summer Story Festival is a happy holiday memory again. This year we presented event programming to around 750 people. More than 200 kids also enjoyed scavenger hunts at the Porirua, Whitby and Cannons Creek Libraries. We gave away over 600 books – not to mention scores of chocolate bars (cheers, Whittaker’s!), lollipops, pens, pencils, badges, bracelets, bookmarks and posters. Three very lucky kids also won family passes to Zealandia (thanks, Te Mara a Tane!) for their artworks.
Highlights included PlayShop’s brilliant opening night performance. We loved the way performers Jen O’Sullivan, Ryan Knighton and Janaye Henry turned up with nothing but themselves, and proceeded to transport the packed launch party crowd from the giddy heights of the sky to the deepest depths of the ocean, gaining the full participation of every person present. I have never seen audience interactivity quite like it. My favourite moment was when Ryan, as a previously crippled train discovering he no longer needed his Zimmer frame, tossed the (actually invisible) walking aid into the crowd, and everyone spontaneously ducked. Someone even complained he’d hit them in the face with it (it was the only near-miss health and safety incident reported). Imagination overload! Many thanks to In the Belly of the Whale’s director and incomparable connector Judith Frost-Evans for discovering PlayShop for us, and bringing them on board.
I got a huge kick out of Kylie Welch’s songwriting workshop (see previous blog entry). Creating a group song in one hour was the sort of feat that typifies the can-do ethos A-Long Hot Summer Story Festival aims to impart. Kylie really pulled out all the stops to provide a deluxe jamming experience, and had made herself a roomful of friends-for-life by the end of it.
Author and story-spinning troubadour Mark Sommerset was a smash hit on his mini-tour to Porirua and Cannons Creek, where he had both kids and adults in stitches of laughter, screaming for more. We knew there would be poos and wees mentioned – but he even managed to talk about vomit too! Judging by the reactions he got, these are all very good things. His popularity has been reflected in issue statistics for his books since his visit.
It’s a similar story for Alexandra Tylee and Kieran Rynhart’s If I Was a Banana (Gecko Press, 2016), which has been in hot demand since Kieran (pictured left) hosted his very popular drawing workshop. All present were endeared by how generous Kieran was with his attention to every child attending.
The wealth of authors sharing their skills made for many rich experiences, and they all have such a range of talents too. Many thanks are due to Linda Hansen, Juliet Jacka (loved the yoga!), Gay Hay (who also provided some of her beautiful Page Break books for rewards), and my mentor and long-time Porirua Libraries friend Moira Wairama. We would love Pukerua Bay storyteller Gordon Hall to come again too.
One author who could not appear but was extremely generous in her sponsorship was Jill MacGregor, who produces the outstanding Children of the Pacific range of books through her Puriri Paddocks imprint. We will try to arrange a chance for you all to hear some of Jill’s stories sometime in the future.
All our bookish sponsorship friends helped put the icing on the very loud cake that was the Celebration Disco on the final day. Everyone who made it to the last dance were rewarded with a book prize - thanks to Gecko Press, Penguin Random House, Puriri Paddocks, South Pacific Books, All Books, and Page Break. Big ups to the dream team of library staffers - Sally Warburton (for everything!), Gina Miller (for the tunes), Moses Villiamu (for the brilliant design), and Mike Collins (for construction help), Eve Carroll (for enthusiastic photography), Olivia Darroch (for all-round awesomeness), and Robyn Kozinski (for always being there) – who came together to build, dance at, and tear down the disco in one crazy-fun day. We had an absolute ball doing it too.
Most of all, I want to thank all the library members and friends of library members who came to dance, sing, strum, shake, draw, listen, hunt, and craft the holidays away with us. You're the reason we throw these shindigs, and it wouldn't be a festival without you.
Now we turn our dreaming to the new year of planning. We look forward to creating lots of new experiences for our youngest library members, and their families. Some people say, if you love what you do, you’ll never have to work a day in your life. If that’s the case, we look forward to continuing to play for you.
Kylie Welch brings the 'Happiness'
As we enter the last week of A-Long Hot Summer Story Festival, we begin looking back at stacks of magical memories created at the storytimes and workshops held so far. A highlight among a whole festival of amazing performances was Kylie Welch’s songwriting workshop on January 6. We had a wonderful time creating a real “ear worm” of a song in just an hour. It was certainly catchy enough to lodge itself firmly in my psyche, and with such a positive message, it was more than welcome there! Here are the song lyrics [with chords inserted]…
[D] When I wake up in the morning and my [A] feet touch the ground
[A] When I walk out the door and there’s [D] sunshine all around
I [G] feel so cool I can [D] hardly stand still
So I [A] smile and I walk towards the [D] woods
[D] When I walk through the woods I see [A] bees flying round
[A] When I listen to the trees I hear a [D] wonderful sound
All the[G] animals I meet are [D] roaming round my feet
So I [A] smile and keep walking through the woods
[G] I’m in a world of lollipops and it’s also [D] filled with gumdrops
I [A] can’t believe it’s happening to me [D]
Here is a link to the video to give you an idea how it should sound. The verse tune is very similar to ‘If You’re Happy and You Know It’, so try singing it to that. And here is a picture of Daniel Lovewell and his Mum Robyn, playing their part in Kylie's merry band.
We look forward to catching you at the final events this week. Moira Wairama’s performance of The Puppet Box, in the Performing Arts Studio on Tuesday (January 17) at 2PM, will be particularly good for pre-schoolers. Mark Sommerset, in the Performing Arts Studio on Wednesday (January 18) at 2.30PM and at Cannons Creek Library on Thursday (January 19) at 10.30AM, will be hilarious and high-spirited fun for all ages. He’s come all the way from Waiheke Island to join us for the festival, and I know he will leave having won the hearts of many Porirua readers. You can learn more about his magical life creating Dreamboat Books here. Both Mark and Moira will be selling and signing books at their performances, so bring pocket money, because you're sure to fall in love with what they have to offer.
Then, of course, we have the disco you’ve been earning all festival long on Friday (January 20) at 2PM. We have a great team helping us turn the studio into a hyper-lit, beachside wonderland. There will be glow-sticks for all, and DJ Gina will be playing the most popular requested tunes to light up the dancefloor. It’s going to be a blazing way to bid the festival farewell, with spot prizes for all. We look forward to dancing with you.
Don’t forget to get your competitions in before 5.30PM on Friday too. There are still plenty of prizes to be claimed, so why not make working on them a feature of one of your quiet times at home this week?
Eight-year-old Evie enjoying local author Linda Hansen's tutoring
It's been a busy first day back at Porirua Library, with A-Long Hot Summer Story Festival in full swing. We started the day with one of the many Story Fun sessions on the timetable, and a bunch of the freshest books in the library. Story Fun sessions are a regular feature of the festival for the coming two weeks, so be sure to start your day with some picture book goodness at 10.30AM on January 5, 6, 9, 10, 11, 12 and 13.
Titahi Bay author Linda ("LP") Hansen ran our first writing workshop of the year today, getting up close and personal with some very lucky young writers. The writers worked hard with their tutor, and earned a book from our sponsors Gecko Press for their efforts. Spot prizes are a big feature of the festival this year, so be sure to attend events, because you never know what you might end up walking out with.
The Scavenger Hunt has kept the children's area humming, as kids hunt high and low for picture book covers, to enter a mystery prize draw. It's a great way to spend 30 minutes or so, if you're at a loose end and like entering competitions. And don't forget, there is a huge swag of prizes for readers of all ages. They are a great way to get involved with the festival when you can't make it into the library, or the library isn't open. You could even win one of the Frankie Potts mysteries, by tomorrow's guest workshop presenter Juliet Jacka.
Juliet's workshop is sure to inspire you to get your pen moving, which will come in handy with many of the competitions. Come along and meet her in the Helen Smith Room at 2PM on January 5, and learn how she managed to create a fiction series from just five random words. Juliet will be selling and signing the Frankie Potts mysteries for $12 a copy (cash sales only). Author visits are just one more way A-Long Hot Summer Story Festival brings the books to life for Porirua readers.
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