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2. Opportunities: Media project for refugee youth in Western Sydney

ICE (Information and Cultural Exchange) has announced a new project for young people in Western Sydney from a refugee background. The project—Create Media!—aims to train and mentor the young participants in developing their creative new media ideas and turning them into business ventures. It’s for young people from a refugee background aged 16-30 years, who have lived in Australia for less than 10 years, who currently reside or study in Western Sydney and have a demonstrated interest in digital media.

The official press release follows:



MEDIA RELEASE | 11 March 2009


A foot in the digital door for Western Sydney’s young refugees


Young refugees from Western Sydney will enhance their digital media skills to run their own arts enterprises through an impressive new project, titled Create Media! to be managed by Information and Cultural Exchange (ICE).


Supported by the Westpac Foundation, Create Media! aims to train and mentor a group of young participants to develop their own creative ideas, and turn them into business ventures. Ultimately, the project will select a group of participants to develop one new-media enterprise to be hosted and developed at ICE.


‘The Westpac foundation believes in enabling life long learning and education leading to employment, as well as encouraging youth leadership and empowerment, through Create Media!, young people of refugee background will use the latest technology to tell their own stories, collaborate with other artists and find long term financial sustainability’ said Dr. Gianni Zappala, Executive Officer of the Westpac Foundation.


Create Media will deliver targeted training and mentorship to participants as they develop creative ideas, digital media skills and become business savvy. The training will be supported by a work-experience and mentorship program, components of the training will be accredited, giving participants a heads-up for further study.


The key aim of the project is to support the emergence of a new media enterprise, led and managed by young refugees.


‘We want to give people the skills and ambition to turn their interest into income,’ says project coordinator Gary Paramanathan. ‘Participants need to learn how to actualise their creative ideas, and also how to present and sell them. At the end of the project, participants will have the chance to pitch to a selection panel, and the successful project will be hosted and funded at ICE through a long-term mentorship.’


ICE is at the forefront of presenting Western Sydney culture to the world. For over 20 years it has trained and assisted artists from Western Sydney, especially those from linguistically and culturally diverse backgrounds.


ICE is currently recruiting young people from a refugee background who have lived in Australia for less than 10 years, currently reside and/or study in Western Sydney, aged between 16-30, and have a demonstrated interest or experience in digital media.


For further information on the project please contact Gary Paramanathan on, ph: (02) 9897 5744 or email createmedia@ice.org.au

Applications close 5pm 6th of April, and can be downloaded at www.ice.org.au





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3. World Mathematics Day

Well, I missed it—no suprises there, maths being my least favourite subject, but the reoudtable Trevor Cairney, literacy expert, did not. He has a great blog post up at his “Literacy, Families and Learning” blog (which if you’re not subscribed to, you should be) linking great children’s books to World Mathematics Day. Read it here, and if you have any favourite maths-related children’s books, for any age, please send a comment with the details.

Me, I loved Jenny Pausacker’s YA novel Getting Somewhere*, which features a female teenage protagonist who is a maths maven: not something we see a lot of in YA books. Maybe because like me, most writers weren’t so strong in the maths department (I understand Jenny enlisted the help of a maths whizz friend for the relevant passages in the book).

* Shortlisted in the 1996 CBCA Awards.

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4. Bush fires—resources and how to help

Like everyone, I’ve been equally transfixed and distressed by the news from Victoria. Today’s Sydney Morning Herald front page story about the teachers who lost students in the fires had me weeping before breakfast. I imagine there has been lots of discussions in classrooms and families across the country about what happened and what we can do to help.

It was actually a colleague in the United States who alerted me, via the child_lit listserve, about this page on the Victorian School Library Association’s blog, about how schools can help contribute to the bushfire appeal. There are links to the major fundraising sites, plus a number of posts in the comments section about the creative things schools around the country are doing to raise funds.

I think it’s really important that young people feel as if they can do something concrete to help, and these ideas for mufti days and so on are a great idea. If your school or library or community is doing something like this, do leave a comment and share your ideas.

Similarly, I guess people might be looking for resources to help young people understand what’s happened. I’m not a great fan of bibliotherapy—I suspect the last thing a kid suffering a trauma wants to do is read a book about a kid suffering a trauma—but I was interested to note the children’s book editors from Allen and Unwin blog about a book that helped one of them as a child when she had experienced the Ash Wednesday fires. So if you have found any books that you’ve used successfully to help young people explore the emotions that this week’s events have brought up, please use the comment section to tell us about it and how and why it worked.

Children’s/YA writer Penni Russon lives in one of the fire affected towns. She and her young family weren’t at home when the fires hit, and fortunately their home was not lost. Penni has been writing about the aftermath of the fires on her Eglantine’s Cake blog. Today’s post about her young daughter’s questions is very moving indeed. I recommend Penni’s blog to you in any case, but especially at this time.

Another wonderful blog post about the fires I came across is this one at the Barista blog. The author of this blog is a scriptwriter who worked on a documentary project about the 1939 Victorian bushfires. His post “We lived again but life was different” is not only a fantastic piece of writing, it’s a wonderful resource for older students. Highly recommended.

If you’ve come across any excellent writing about the fires or other useful resources, please share them here.

Updated to include: Perry Middlemiss at the wonderful Australian Literature blog Matilda posts an extract from Charles Darwin’s The Voyage of the Beagle. It’s a description of the Australian countryside and you won’t want to miss it. It’s so timely, because of the fires, as we all think about our landscape, but also because it’s Darwin’s 200th birthday.

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5. The joys of reading as a child

I came across a couple of articles that are lovely tributes to the experience and value of childhood reading.

This one is by the US children’s author Mitali Perkins. Mitali contends that Stories are powerful allies as we seek to raise a generation of compassionate children. I’d agree with that—although thankfully, compassion isn’t in short supply in Australia in this most dreadful and challenging of times. (I’ll be adding a post about the fires in Victoria in a moment.)

The second article is titled When books could change your life: Why what we soak up at 12 may be the most important reading we ever do.*  Here’s a quote I like:

Let me put it another way: When was the last time a book changed your life? I don’t mean offered you new insights or ideas or moved you — I mean profoundly changed the way you see the world or shaped the kind of person you are?

It’s really important that we, as the adults who have the power of bringing books into the lives of kids (or keep them out), remember the sheer joy of losing yourself in a book, and more than that, the incredibly powerful things we learnt about the world and about ourselves and others like us and not like us through books. I don’t mean by that I think that books for children are primarily for teaching moral lessons—just that the really good ones pass on those qualities we value, and, as the author of this piece puts it, “ideas that are still bigger than our heads“.

Does your school encourage reading for pleasure? Are the old days of DEAR (Drop Everything and Read) dead and gone? Maybe you’ve found a better way of incorporating reading—just reading, not testing or preparing for tests—into your school community. Love to hear about it—share your successes in the comments section!


* Must be something in the air lately about returning to the pleasures of reading like a kid: this article was in the Fashion & Style section, of all things, of the New York Times a few weeks ago.

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6. New year, new resolution!

Welcome back to westword and the second year of the Western Sydney Young People’s Literature project.

I was a bad blogger last year, and I am determined to update westword far more regularly in 2009. I will be adding posts soon about some of the highlights of 2008, and will also start listing forthcoming events and plans for the project.

I also plan to use this blog as a bit of a resource hub. In the past few months I have finally got myself organised with google reader, and have now added more than one hundred blogs, most of which deal with children’s and youth literature, literacy, publishing and related topics. (Also I am also now on Twitter, using my personal blog name (misrule_au) and am using it to post links to articles I have read of interest (as well as other bits and pieces of sense and nonsense). But I will also be putting those links here, starting with this post.

First of all is this interesting article  from new Zealand about a new approach to literacy that is having enormous success, especially with Maori students:

In the first South Auckland study, involving seven schools, each child’s reading leapt ahead by an entire year. The technique also pushed far more children into the average or above categories - 40% made these top slots before the study started, and in three years that jumped to 70%. Maori children again did particularly well. The second group of seven different schools showed similar results.

The article doesn’t go into enormous detail about the program, but it’s been written up in Reading Research Quarterly, which I was able to access through ProQuest via Blacktown Library’s database.

Over in England, the battle is on to save the school library. Spearheaded by authors Philip Pullman, Alan Gibbons and the wonderful Michael Rosen, the campaign is against closures of school libraries as well as changing their name (and focus away from books) to “learning resource centre”. Frank Cottrell Boyce, author of the brilliant Millions, has also had his say on the matter:

Mr Cottrell Boyce said: “When I visit many schools, I see a big, fat, glaring, expensive anti-reading for pleasure signal.

“It stands where the library used to stand and it’s called the learning resource centre. To turn your library into a learning resource centre, you generally have to chuck out a bunch of valuable, durable assets – books – and replace them with sub-prime computers which will quickly date.”

From time to time I hear people say similar things are happening in Australian school libraries: can anyone comment? Are our school libraries in danger of refocusing away from books? Are we losing teacher-librarians from our schools? Please add your thoughts to the comment section. (Ditto public libraries, by the way—are we losing specialist children’s and youth services staff from our public libraries? We need to be really vigilant that we protect our libraries and the specialist support they offer young readers.)

Speaking of supporting young readers, and of the delightful Mr Rosen, read this article about Michael Rosen working in a school in Wales to encourage a love of reading. The BBC has made a TV show out of it (here’s the link, but we can’t watch the video outside of the UK), a la Jamie’s School Dinners. What do you reckon the chances are the ABC will screen it here? Should we start a campaign?

(And before I forget, I found this when I was looking for links to Frank Cottrell Boyce. Liverpool, where he lives, did one of those whole city reads the same book things with Millions. Isn’t this fantastic? If we did a Sydney Reads (or even a Western Sydney Reads), what book would you choose? And if you’re looking for resources to accompany Millions, don’t forget this official site from the publisher, which also happens to be very entertaining.)

Also from the UK is this rather scathing assessment of the way secondary school crush creativity, especially in boys. This is author Joe Craig speaking:


I’ve visited over 200 schools in the last couple of years, which means I must have run workshops for over 40,000 boys and girls between the ages of 8 and 13. By the time the students reach Year 8, I can predict almost word for word what their story ideas will be, from any given starting point. Even if they think they’re being subversive, in fact especially when they think that, the older the student is, the more predictable the ideas.

The biggest change comes in Year 7, which statistically is also when there’s the biggest drop off in reading – especially in boys. Now, it perhaps seems obvious that the withering of originality is greatly caused by reading less. But I think it’s also the other way round: they read less because their creative spark is consistently doused. Their connection with stories, with ideas and imagination, is stifled by the school environment. If the fun has gone from stories, why read?

I imagine if I were still in the English classroom that I’d be a bit affronted by this article, but I actually suspect there be more than a grain of truth to it. We hear stories from time to time of boy students getting into trouble for things they have written—I think it’s partly teachers’ reasonable concerns about their legal responsibilities to report potential threats or child endangerment, but I do think that Craig is spot on when he suggests that boys’ “wacky ideas” need to be celebrated. Girls’ too, for that matter. (The stuff this article raises about gender as it pertains to reading, writing and classroom practice are, I think, fascinating.)

This is a very UK-centric post, for which I don’t apologise—I think it’s important we keep track of what’s happening with our colleagues, and with education and books and authors and so on around the world. Having said that, I popped over to the Sydney Morning Herald to see if there were any articles of interest in their Education section, and I got a “page not found” message. Humph.

More soon!

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7. (Light) Operatunity

I know, I pinched that name from the ABC. Nevertheless, I wanted to let people know about an opportunity that brings together children’s literature and theatre. The Kookaburra musical theatre company has set up an education program, along the lines of Bell Shakespeare’s successful schools’ program, I guess you could say. Kookaburra were touring around the state with a couple of shows last termone for primary, one for secondary students—and by all accounts it was very successful.

The next thing they have on offer is an “enrichment experience” (clunky name, but we’ll forgive them that) with their forth-coming production of the musical version of Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel Little Women. The event, to be held on Saturday 15 November, offers young audience members a backshow “sneak and peek” before a matinee performance, and then a Q&A session after the show. And they get to see the show, of course! Sounds like fun, and an excellent opportunity for young people interested in theatre, and for fans of the book.

Follow the link above on “enrichment experience” and it should take you to a pdf with all the details.

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8. Opportunities

That’s what the Western Sydney Young People’s Literature Project is all about: opportunities for young readers and writers, but also for their teachers and librarians. Opportunities to participate in events, to meet and work with authors and illustrators, but also opportunities to help others out, which brings me to today’s post:

A young man named Morgan (he’s 16, but I am not sure where in Australia he lives) is building a library in Fiji, where he has worked as a volunteer during his last two winter school holidays. I’ll let Morgan speak for himself (which he is clearly more than capable of doing!):

My name is Morgan Hayton. I am 16 years old.

I have spent my winter school holidays for two years in Fiji volunteering at a local school as part of my schools mission team. We visit a very remote school that is struggling and has only handful books in the whole school, the teachers there can only dream of starting a library.

Have you ever wanted to change the world? But think it is impossible because we are just one person? Me too. But then I came up with this idea.

We are going to build a library together.

One person, one book at a time.

One person can’t build a library but if everyone that reads this gets a book from their bookshelf (they don’t have to be new) and posts it to the school in Fiji, we can build a library together.

Step 1
A small book no more 2cm thick up to 250g ( that’s like a Dr Seuss soft cover) in an A4 envelope costs $4.20 to post.

There is no sea mail to Fiji so this is the best way to get books there. Mark the package either used book, ift or printed matter only.

Namara Village District School
Namara Village

Step 2
Please write your a small bit about yourself or family inside the cover the kids would love to know who you are and where to book came from.

Step 3 Tell a friend

Checkout my photos go to my facebook page “Books for Fiji” or email my at
and I will keep in touch and next June when I visit I will take some more photos and show you what some great people can do.

Thank you

I know you can’t access Facebook from school, but nevertheless you can join Morgan’s Facebook group here.

I always love it when young people take an initiative like this, so if you have a spare children’s book and a spare few dollars lying around, why not send that book off to Fiji.

And while you’re at it, don’t forget to support our own Indigenous Literacy Project.

More soon: opportunities galore!

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9. Upcoming event and apologies!

Gosh, I hope people added an RSS feed for westword, becuase I have been shockingly neglectful in keeping this blog up, and imagine you’ve all given up checking it!

Still, please do hang around because I’ve got some updating to do, beginning with notification of a fun school holiday event at Max Webber Library in Blacktown. It’s called Lunch in the Library and will feature two writers, Claire Craig (Harriet Bright in as Pickle) and Joss Hedley (The Wish Kin). The event is free, but the library needs to take bookings for catering purposes, so give them a call on 9838 6613. Suitable for all ages: the littlies(seven and up) will love Harriet Bright, while kids in upper primary will be thrilled by The Wish Kin.

Date & Time: Thursday 9 October @ 1pm

And here’s a poster you can download: 2authorevent

OK, I’ll be back shortly with an update of what I’ve been up to. It’s been a busy few months–some frustrations, some projects I haven’t been able to follow up on as I’d have liked, but some other fantastic things are in the works. Plus I have just today completed my Australia Council grant application for four exciting projects for next year–and it’s a week early! Yeeha! Fingers crossed they support the projects.

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10. Youth writing group—Blacktown

Young writers in Years 8-10 are invited to join a new creative writing group, to be held over six weeks in Term 3 at Max Webber Library in Blacktown.

The workshops, to be led by local writer Glenda Guest, are free, but we do ask that the young people dedicate themselves to attending every week. The group is limited in size, and bookings will be taken on a first come basis.

Details on the information flyer, which you can download here: youth-writing-group

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11. Competitions

Two competitions have been brought to my attention.

Free books!

Schools can win a complete library of Tashi books. To win, you need to write in 50 words or less why you like to recommend the Tashi books to your students. Easy! For entry information go here—but be quick, entries close July 15.

The hugely successful and popular Tashi books are written by Anna and Barbara Fienberg and illustrated by Kim Gamble.

Writing competition

The “Queen of Crime” competition is open to young women under the age of 18 as of 1 January 2008. The competition is for a 2000 word story with a crime or mystery as its theme. First prize  $200, 2nd  $75, 3rd  $25.

Post competition entries to PO Box 819, Avalon, NSW 2107.Entry fee: $7. Entries close 15 September.

Email questions to: meg@steggall.com.au

The competition is sponsored by Del Mutton along with Partners in Crime Sydney and Abbey’s Bookshops.

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12. Planning in progress

I am busy at the moment putting together some programs that I want to pilot in the second half of this year—which, of course, is already upon us! How did that happen?

There is, I was pleased to discover, a decent amount of money in my program budget, which will allow me to run some substantial pilots at no cost to the sorganisations who may be involved. I have a few program ideas I am working on, involving writers and illustrators of books for young people—graphic novels and “make a book” programs are two potential programs—and designed to run one day/session per week over a number of weeks, rather than a one-off workshop. It’s engagement over time we’re aiming for with the Western Sydney Young People’s Literature Program, for what the good folk at The Song Room call sustained outcomes.

Next step—well, one step of many to come—is to identify the schools, libraries, community groups, perhaps even TAFE courses (for a skills development component where relevant) to work with on these pilot projects. I have a few ideas about how to go about this: working with education department consultants, putting out for expressions of interest, taking enquiries through this blog…

Once we’ve worked on these pilot programs, the idea is to “package” them so that other groups across the region (and state) can take them up.

I’m also working with the curator and cultural advisor on the Penrith Regional Gallery’s Strictly Samoan program. Depending on funding, we’re hoping to work with three schools in the Penrith area which have significant numbers of Samoan students on a storytelling and writing project. The schools for this project have already been identified, so stay tuned as to how this project will develop. (Similarly, I’m hoping to get up a writing project associated with two arts and historical exhibitions coming up in Parramatta later this year.)

So, busy days, and exciting prospects—and yet there’s lots more it’s still too early to report on!  So bookmark or subscribe to the blog, and I’ll keep you posted.

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13. Author links and other useful stuff

As I mentioned in my report last week, the teacher-librarians at the network meeting I attended had some really practical suggestions about how they might find this blog useful, which I am starting to follow up on. One of the t-ls was after a convenient link to author sites—a one stop shop, if you will. Lots of authors and illustrator have their own sites, so it can be a simple matter of just googling whoever you’re interested in, but a more comprehensive site would be really useful.

And there is such a site! In fact, there may be several, but one I am familiar with is hosted by the fantastic team at Curriculum Materials Information Services (CMIS) team at the Department of Education and Training in Western Australia. The site is very user-friendly—there’s an alphabetical index, and the author/illustrator sites listed are coded to indicate if they’re Australian (or WA). There’s also a readership level guide for fiction titles.

Following a link to an individual (say, Morris Gleitzman) takes you to a potted summary of their work and major titles, and if they have their own website—voila!—the link is there as well.

The CMIS author/illustrator site also has sections that link to interviews and other useful information about booking authors into schools and so on. And CMIS’s “Focus on Fiction” site has all sorts of other links—to book awards, classroom resources, and links to review journals and so on.

Finally, the CMIS team keep up an excellent blog about children’s and youth literature. They are much more dedicated bloggers than me—they update pretty much every day. I’ve added the link to westword’s blogroll (eyes right→) and I recommend it highly as a hub of news and views of interest to all of us working with young people and their literature.

More links and resources to come, so pop back soon.

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14. westword has a busy week!

It’s the Sydney Writers’ Festival this week, which makes it a very busy week for me—which paradoxically means I am not going to make it to many Festival events, alas!

The week kicked off for me with the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards dinner, held on Monday night at the Art Gallery of NSW. I was thrilled that James Roy won the Ethel Turner prize for young people’s literature for his marvellous collection of inter-related short stories, Town. Town is one of my favourite YA books from 2007, and I’m glad that it has received its due recognition by this award. (Town is also a CBCA Notable Book.)

The Patricia Wrightson prize for children’s literature went to The Peasant Prince, a picture book based on on Li Cunxin’s Mao’s Last Dancer, illustrated by Anne Spudvilas.

Tuesday night I chaired a Sydney Writers’ Festival session at Max Webber Library in Blacktown. The panel was on speculative fiction, and featured writers D.M. Cornish (Monster Blood Tattoo), David Kowalski (The Company of the Dead—not intended for younger readers, but many teens will enjoy this lengthy and complex alternate history) and editor of Aurealis magazine Stuart Mayne.

I wrote an account of the Premier’s lit awards dinner and the spec fiction panel on my personal blog: follow the links if you’d like to read about both events in more detail.

My days have been busy too. On Tuesday, I attended the Western Sydney region’s primary principal’s meeting with Terry O’Keefe, the children’s services librarian from Blacktown City Library. Terry spoke about the work of public libraries, the changing nature of young people’s use of libraries and future directions for the way the library might work with and for young people.

It was also an opportunity for me to talk to the principals about the Western Sydney Young People’s Literature project, the first time many of them had heard about it. They were very positive and supportive in their response, and gave some good suggestions about how the project might work with their schools.

Terry and I also had the chance to talk together about some joint projects—we’ve got a very exciting idea we hope to get up in Term 4 this year—too soon to publish details, but we’ll keep you posted.

Wednesday, I spoke about the project at a teacher librarian’s network meeting (also Western Sydney region). There were about 80 TLs at the meeting, and again, the response was overwhelmingly positive. These, of course, are the people at the coalface of bringing young people and books together, and they had a lot to say on a number of issues: the value of access to arts programs for their students, but also the problems associated with the cost of bringing authors and illustrators into their schools. The affordability and sheer logistical challenges associated with organising excursions. The hole left by the end of the Nestlé Write Around Australia creative writing competition. That an interactive website would be both welcomed and made use of—we all agree that schools and libraries need to embrace Web 2.0 in ways that adhere to principles of child protection and safety, but also reflects young people’s engagement with technology and multi-media.

The teacher librarians also had some really practical suggestions about communication and promotion of events and programs, and were very clear that this blog would be a useful resource and information centre for them, at least until the project has its own website, and I am able to set up better communication systems. I have taken that in board, along with a few specific requests for author resources, which I will be posting here very soon.

Tonight (Thursday) was the launch of the project’s advisory board member (and mover-and-shaker!) Libby Gleeson’s new novel Mahtab’s Story. This wonderful novel was inspired by the stories of young Afghani refugee women, who Libby met at Holroyd High School, and was launched by the NSW Governor, Professor Marie Bashir.

As we have come to expect, Professor Bashir spoke with great warmth and sincerity about Mahtab’s Story, about the renewed optimism and positivity in Australian public life, and the potential our country now has to have an influential voice in world politics regarding dispossessed and oppressed peoples. She spoke about the quality of Libby’s writing, and the way Mahtab’s Story demolishes stereotypes we in the west may have about Muslim people—women in particular. (Here, she referred to the fictional Mahtab’s admiration for her great-aunt, a doctor, in whose shoes she hopes to tread.)

Libby spoke strongly about the dignity of the young Muslim women she worked with in the research and preparation for her novel, and this was made evident by the speech made by Nahid, the young Afghani woman whose story most informed and influenced the writing of the novel.

But as moving as Libby’s and Professor Bashir’s comments were, the words of the Nahid actually had me in tears.

Nahid, who is now 21, arrived in Australia in September 2001—as she said, the historical, social and political nadir for Muslim Australians. Nahid and her family were held in detention on their arrival—now, after graduating through the intensive language centre and then the mainstream educational program at Holroyd High, Nahid is now studying medical science at the University of Western Sydney.

Nahid said that from her the earliest years of her childhood in Afghanistan, she believed in equality for all people, especially women, and spoke about how she intends to fulfil all her personal goals—not primarily for herself, but for those young Afghani women left behind who at this point in time cannot hope to pursue any kind of formal education.

Such grace, such compassion and empathy.

Mahtab’s Story is, I think, a wonderful example of the aims of the Western Sydney Young People’s Literature project, and I recommend it, both as a fine novel and a lucid expression of the true heart of multiculturalism and inclusion in Australia.

Finally, if any westword readers are at a loose end around 7 pm tomorrow night (Friday 23 May), can I suggest you make your way to the Workshop Showroom in St Peters in the inner west to attend the Sydney launch of Leigh Rigozzi and and Benny Walter’s “Below Tree Level” project. Leigh is the artist who conducted the Western Sydney Young People’s Literature project’s first event—the zine workshop previously blogged here at westword.

More soon—but here’s a photo from the Mahtab’s Story launch:

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15. Recent events

Apologies for not updating the westword blog sooner, but I was in Melbourne for the Children’s Book Council of Australia conference last week, so very busy (and tired!).

I have two events in the Western Sydney Young People’s Literature project to report, both developed in partnership with the Blacktown City Library.

First of all was a visit by the Western Australian author-illustrator (and husband and wife) team, Mark Greenwood and Frané Lessac. Mark and Frané have together created a beautiful new picture book, Simpson and His Donkey, published by Walker Books Australia, and we were lucky enough to host them on their only day in Sydney (Monday April 28).

Mark and Frané led two “Make a Picture Storybook” workshops for Year 5 and 6 students, demonstrating how they research, write and illustrate their books. We had more than 40 young people in the workshops, and they were all enthralled and inspired by Mark and Frané’s presentation—and the work they produced was stunning.

Frané demonstrates how to draw Simpson’s donkey.

Mark talks about researching and writing Simpson and His Donkey.

Some examples of the wonderful work produced by the young people at the picture book workshop.

The second event to report on was the presentation of the library’s Youth Week creative writing competition. YA author Melina Marchetta selected the competition winners, and she was guest speaker at the presentation on the evening of Monday 5 May. Melina spoke “writer to writer” to the audience, speaking about her books and her creative process—and she read a section from her forth-coming novel Finnikan of the Rock. It was a fantastic opportunity for the young writers to hear from one of our finest novelists for young people, and there were some really thoughtful and intelligent questions asked, particularly from parents interested in encouraging their children’s creativity.

Melina Marchetta speaks at the Youth Week Creative Writing competition.

It’s been wonderful to host events with such gifted creators of books for young readers so early in the western Sydney project. There’ll be more to come, so stay tuned!

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16. Meet Melina Marchetta—Free Event

Melina Marchetta, award-winning author of Looking for Alibrandi, Saving Francesca and On the Jellicoe Road, will be at the Blacktown City Library on the evening of Monday May 5. Download the information flyer here and the schools’ booking form here.

Melina will be in Blacktown for the presentation of the Blacktown City Library’s Youth Week Creative Competition. Melina is selecting the winners of the competition, and will be guest speaker at the presentation.

This free all-ages author event is open to everyone, not just people involved with the creative writing competition. Melina will be speaking about her books and the craft of writing. There will be time for a question and answer session and a book signing, and Melina’s books will be on sale courtesy of Readers Bookshop, Westpoint Blacktown.

A reminder: the event is free but bookings are required: call the library on 9839 6677. Schools are welcome to book in multiple students to attend: download the booking form here.

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17. zine workshop report

The first event in the western Sydney young people’s literature project took place on Saturday—a zine workshop at The Burbs Youth Week Festival. As I’ve mentioned before, the workshop was led by the wonderful young artist Leigh Rigozzi.

The workshop was a bit of an experiment in a way—how would such a workshop work at what was primarily a music festival? Would people know what a zine was? Would anyone turn up?!

Well, they did turn up—although no-one really had heard of zines before—and those who joined in the workshop had a great time. We had probably more than 20 young people (from 7 to 19) join in over three hours or so, and they all thought Leigh was great. Leigh had brought samples of his work, and the common reaction to seeing his fantastic comic-style art was mad!

The idea was that the participants would make a page about their life in western Sydney, featuring text and illustrations. A few of them claimed they were no good at art, but Leigh encouraged and guided them. He also made some cartoons on the spot about the festival, which were brilliant in their wit and observation.

Some of the younger kids wanted to take their pages home, but we got enough to make a modest zine, which we’ll be producing in the coming weeks. (I even contributed a page, despite the fact that, as my dear dad always said (affectionately), if I were a horse, I couldn’t draw a cart…)

So thanks to Aaron and Zack and the “Maccas servers” girls from Liverpool and the Young family and everyone else who joined in. Special thanks to Leigh. We’ll be working with Leigh and other cartoonists, graphic novelists and zinesters in the western Sydney project as time goes on.

Here’s a photo of Leigh with some of Saturday’s zinesters. (Leigh is the one with the beard ;-) ) More photos at my flickr site.

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18. Upcoming events

There are some great events I’ve had a hand in organising coming up in the next few weeks: a zine workshop led by artist Leigh Rigozzi as part of Youth Week, a “make your own storybook” workshop for senior primary school students led by by Frané Lessac and Mark Greenwood and a public event to celebrate Frané and Mark’s new picture book Simpson and His Donkey. Follow the links below for more information, and do join us!

Zine workshop.

Storybook workshop.

Simpson and His Donkey event.

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19. First report

Day two on the westword blog. I’ve sent emails out today to start letting people know this blog is here, and I’m hoping word will start to get out fairly quickly.

I thought I should give readers some background to the position and document my early investigations into how this new project may develop.

The position now known as Western Sydney Young People’s Literature Officer has been a long time coming. The Centre for Youth Literature at the State Library of Victoria has been well established for some years now, ditto the Fremantle Children’s Literature Centre, but Sydney/NSW has been without a dedicated position of this nature. There has been lobbying to establish such a position—and centre—for a long time, most notably in the last few years by author Libby Gleeson, and I think it’s fair to say that without Libby’s dedication, it may never have happened. Libby, along with representatives from the education department, Arts NSW, the Blacktown Arts and Cultural Development unit and Blacktown City Library make up the advisory board for the project.

Starting a new job, and project, from scratch has been an exciting and at times daunting prospect. Since starting in the position in early December, I’ve been undertaking an “audit” of existing arts and community projects in the greater western Sydney area, meeting key people and starting to get and understanding and formulate ideas about priority areas for the project.

One thing I needed to do early on was get a sense of the very diverse community of the region. Western Sydney is by no means foreign territory to me—I have lived and worked in the west and south west—but even so it’s been important to get past my own experience and assumptions. Community development officers from various local councils have been invaluable in this regard. They’ve helped me get an understanding of the demographics—the fact that, socio-economically, the region has some of the most disadvantaged communities in Sydney as well as a large number of young professional families. It’s also a young region—Blacktown local government area (LGA), for example, has the largest 0-4 population in Australia. And of course, there are scads of older children and teenagers, and not as many resources and activities for them as in more privileged parts of the city.

The region has many emerging communities, a good proportion of them from refugee backgrounds—Afghani and various African nationals. There are significant (and is some instances long-standing) south-east Asian and Pacific Islander communities. And there is a large Aboriginal community as well. (If I’ve left anyone out, apologies! I’m still learning.)

Western Sydney has a very lively and innovative arts scene, particularly in the areas of visual and performing arts, but little in the way of literary events outside of some library initiatives and satellite Sydney Writers’ Festival programs. So there’s an enormous amount of good will around this new project, and a genuine feel of excitement at the possibilities. The people I have met with—staff from cultural centres and galleries; children’s and youth services librarians; curators; program directors; community development workers from various western Sydney councils—have been uniformly enthusiastic and willing to offer whatever support they can. (We are just a week into the new school year, and I am beginning to contact the education community.)

Already I can see three ways my position will work.

1. Developing original programs. I’ll have my own ideas and initiatives that I want to work on, and I’m very fortunate to have access to a large range of venues across the regions and colleagues willing to support such initiatives. A couple of ideas I hope to work on sooner rather than later include a program of graphic novel workshops and establishing a creative writing group for teenagers. I am also looking to mounting a couple of “travelling” programs with children’s/YA writers and illustrators, with me developing the program and then offering it as a partnership deal to public libraries and possibly other arts centres. (And credit where it’s due—Mylee Joseph from the State Library of NSW suggested this as an efficient way of spreading the workload and resources around this enormous region.)

In the longer term, I want to raise gazillions of dollars to establish an on-going author in residence program for priority schools and establishing an annual writers’ camp for teenagers.

2. Responding to already identified areas of priority by working with (piggybacking on!) existing programs developed by other cultural centres and community development officers. For example, one of the regional galleries has planned an extensive cultural program with one of their Pacific Islander communities later this year—it will involve exhibitions and various public programs and events. The curator and I have discussed developing an inter-generational, bilingual writing project as part of the program. Another arts centre is interested in developing projects involving youth and technology, so I’m investigating how we might develop a project involving narrative/storytelling and technology.

A community development officer I’ve met with is looking at ways of involving literature, books and reading and creative writing in projects designed to support some of the most disadvantaged and disconnected communities in her LGA. We’re talking about involving some children’s writers/illustrators in a “Neighbourhood Stories” project, and developing an “Adopt a Community” project to get books into these needy communities (and publishers reading this?).

I’m keen on seeing how I can work with young parents, modelled on the Literature for All of Us program I saw in Chicago on my Churchill Fellowship.

I’ve already organised a zine workshop to run at Blacktown’s Youth Week festival “The Burbs”, which may develop into a longer-term zine program across the region, and I’m working with the library on its Sydney Writers’ Festival event.

3. I very much see the position as functioning as a resource and communication hub (thus this blog). I have extensive connections with the writing and publishing community, and I am hoping that people will start to think of me as someone they can come to for ideas, contacts and information about the wide and wonderful world of children’s and youth literature. Part of this will be developing professional development opportunities and resources; it will involve networking and hopefully, helping people with little or no access to the cultural and publishing communities bridge that very large divide.

There’s also the possibility of developing partnerships with academics in the areas of teacher training and literature. I’m particularly interested in seeing how I might work with already existing research projects into engagement with the arts, including author-in-schools programs.

So, big plans—and I am open to ideas and offers of partner projects. As Ben Lee sings, we’re all in this together!

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20. Opportunities for young writers


Sydney Writers’ Festival invites students in Years 7 to 9 in NSW and ACT to take part in the 2008 writenow! competition

How to enter
Choose one of the three ‘story starters’ provided by best-selling children’s authors – J.C. Burke, Michael Gerard Bauer and Ursula Dubosarsky – then continue the narrative, completing a short story of no more than 1000 words in total.

Entries must be the original work of the student, written during 2008. They should be typed, with double spacing, on A4 paper. Strictly one entry per student. Word count includes story starter. 

Stories must be submitted with a completed entry form either:

Entries submitted by email or fax will not be accepted.

Entries close Friday 11 April 2008

Prizes will be awarded in three categories according to school year. Winners will receive an MP4 Player, a $100 BigPond Music Voucher and a $250 book pack as well as a book pack of the same value for their school. The runner up in each category will win a 12 month subscription to the BigPond Security Solution, a $50 BigPond Music Voucher and a $100 book pack. Book packs include a selection of titles published by Allen & Unwin, Random House Australia and Scholastic.

Winning entries will be published on The Sydney Morning Herald – Education and Sydney Writers’ Festival websites. Prizes will be presented at Sydney Writers’ Festival School Days at Sydney Theatre, Walsh Bay on Wednesday 21 May at 9.15am.

For further information please call 02 9252 7729 or email  writenow@swf.org.au

Download writenow! entry form pdf 2008_writenow!_entryform
Download writenow! story starters pdf 2008_writenow!_story_starters
Download writenow! poster pdf 2008 writenow! poster


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21. Play Now Act Now—creative competition for 16-25 year olds

Play Now Act Now: Party Smart is a creative competition about young people, alcohol and other drugs. There are three categories: click on the link to go to more information about each.

Creative writing

Graphic design

Film and video

The prizes are generous, too. 

Play Now Act Now is a collaboration between NSW Health and Metro Screen.

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22. SWAY Lounge Youth Writing Forum Campbelltown


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23. Book sale—Children’s Book Council


1. CBCA Members only Preview Sale

If you or your school or public library is a member of CBCA, come along to the CBCA NSW branch office at the NSW Writers Centre for a preview sale and get the best books before they go on sale to the general public. Prices: $10 hardcovers, $5, $2, $1 paperbacks and some free. All GST free.

 Donated sale books include recent notable books, even some medal winners. Picture books, older readers, young adult and some selected fiction for you or years 11 – 12.

We can invoice member, school or library purchases.

 Last year, the average sale to school members was $300 and they took away boxfuls of bargains. We want to give our members the best choice, so come along! Venue:   CBCA Office, first floor NSW Writers Centre,Rozelle Hospital Grounds

Balmain Road ROZELLE

Date: Tuesday 11 March, 4-6pm onlyCar entry & free parking from the entrance to Callan Park on Balmain Road, at the traffic lights opposite Cecily Street. Just follow the green Writers Centre direction signs. Your friends’ school or library may not be members. Sign them up now. The first member to sign up a new school by 11 March, will win a free copy of Justin North’s new cookbook, French Lessons (rrp $60). Just download the membership form from the website www.cbc.org.au/nsw

 2. Sale for Non-membersWe have about 40 boxes of donated books to sell to good homes, so, on last year’s experience, there will still be many good book bargainDate: Thursday 13 March 4 – 6pm onlySame Venue: CBCA Office

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24. westword and the HSC

An area I’ve a personal interest in, as an ex-English teacher, is the HSC English Extension 2 module, which requires advanced students to submit a writing portfolio. I’ve never taught the “new” HSC, introduced in 1999, but it’s always interested me in its approach to comparative study of texts and the rather belated introduction of this creative writing option.

(South Australia, for example, has had a writing portfolio as part of its senior English curriculum for a long time, and back in the early 80s, when I was a senior high school student in the ACT, I was able to choose an English class looking at the form of the short story that also required us to submit a creative writing portfolio. I’ve a great admiration for the schooling system in the ACT, which, like several other states, does not have a final external examination like the NSW HSC. It makes me wonder what might battles may be fought (and lost?) if a national curriculum, which will almost certainly involve a version of the HSC, is enforced. But I digress…)

I always enjoyed teaching creative writing when I was in the classroom (even though at the time I didn’t have particular skills or experience in the area), but I was also aware that many of my colleagues did not feel particularly confident in this area. I don’t know that this has changed all that much—English teachers are very well-trained in teaching formal essay writing and in guiding their students’ responses to literature, but creative writing is a whole other thing. I don’t recall it being much a part of my teacher-training, and let’s face it—responding to students’ creative/imaginative work is much, much harder than assessing an essay.

Add to the mix the commonly-held opinion (or so my anecdotal experience of chatting to teachers would suggest) that students often tend to lose a bit of the creative spark when they get to high school. I think that’s partly a product of adolescent self-consciousness as well as the very content-heavy secondary curriculum. (Also the content of the NSW K-6 English syllabus, which some time ago shifted its emphasis from authentic literature and creative writing to [artificial] non-fiction “text types”.)

I have no doubt that children and teenagers continue to scribble (or these days, type and upload to blogs and MySpace etc) poetry and prose in the privacy of their bedrooms, as they have ever done, but as formal education has become increasingly about academic and vocational outcomes, it’s been harder and harder for teachers and students to carve out a creative niche in the English classroom.

I feel a bit of a fraud writing this—it’s so long since I’ve been a full-time classroom teacher—so I have felt the need to test my own thoughts on the subject against the real experience of current practitioners. Which brings me to the relevance of this rather long-winded and overly-opinionated post to the real purpose of this blog: the documentation of the western Sydney young people’s literature project (which I am coming to think of, in a much needed shorthand, as the westword project!).

From 2009, the HSC English Prescriptions List will change. Some new books have been added—I’m told this is about 15% of the reading list—and texts that have been on the HSC list for many years have been moved to a different focus of study. Last week, I attended a workshop offered by the English unit of the curriculum support directorate of DET, which looked at the new prescriptions list and offered resources and support to develop new units of work. I really enjoyed the workshop—it was good to familiarise myself with the HSC English curriculum, but it was also a great opportunity to talk to teachers from western Sydney about how the westword project might develop programs to best support them in their teaching.

All of the teachers I spoke to confirmed that support for the teaching of creative writing would be very welcome. Even standard students have to write a creative piece in their HSC—it’s worth 15% of their final mark, they can’t study for it, and it seems teachers don’t feel they can give it adequate time in the classroom. And there’s the afore-mentioned Extenstion 2, which it seems not all schools can even timetable on a regular basis.

(Compare this to the time allocated to major works in visual arts and design, drama and music. We wouldn’t think of letting HSC students complete these more or less under their own steam. I can’t help but wonder if this comes back to a widely-held assumption that you can’t teach people to write creative pieces—that you’ve either got the talent or you don’t. But as Libby Gleeson pointed out when she was interviewed by Andrew Daddo on 702 ABC Sydney a couple of weeks ago, we teach people how to paint, sing, play a musical, play a sport—why not writing?)

And it’s not just the HSC. We obviously need to lay the groundwork for skills in creative writing in the junior school.

Let me circle back again to another meeting I had recently, with Susanne Gannon from the University of Western Sydney. Susanne teaches Secondary English Method students—those folk who are going to be English teachers, many of them in western Sydney schools. She has a special interest in teaching her students to become good teachers of writing, and her resource booklet for the course is full of fabulous examples of literature across genres. Susanne agreed with my own concerns about teachers’ confidence in teaching creative writing, and we are looking to work together to develop research and practical programs to address this. (Susanne also has some great ideas about nurturing western Sydney writers as an adjunct to her work in pre-service teacher education, but it’s a bit premature to say more about that as yet.)

So, it’s clear that a priority for the westword project will be supporting young writers by supporting their teachers. There are many ways we can approach this, but I do hope that in the long run, we can produce a module/program that we can deliver in such a way (no doubt involving the creative use of technology) to help teachers (ultimately across the state?) to be better teachers of creative writing. And yes, I’ll be looking to involve professional writers in the project.

I’d really like people’s thoughts on this. Please note that I’m aware that there are many teachers out there who are confident and successful teachers of creative writing, but there are many more that, it seems, would really appreciate more resources and direction in this area. So, any comments and ideas will be gratefully received—consultation must be at the core of everything the westword project undertakes.

This has been a long post—thanks for staying with me. But wait—there’s more! (I’ll be brief.)

On a slightly different tack, many of the HSC English modules require students to select their own text to supplement the prescriptions list for the various modules. I gather that finding appropriate texts outside of the texts commonly studied in schools can be a challenge for the students, their teachers and the librarians that students go to to find a book about X, Y or Z.

I don’t want to reinvent the wheel—I know that HSC English resource lists are being developed by various groups and organisations. What I am wondering is if people think it would be useful if I were to apply my knowledge/extensive reading of contemporary YA fiction to develop reading lists of suitable supplementary texts for various modules, especially the new common area of study, “Belonging”, which seems to lend itself so well to the theme of so many YA novels. (And would such a resource list would be of particular help to Standard students?)

Thanks again, and please leave comments and suggestions.

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25. Recent developments in the western Sydney young people’s literature project

As has been (not so) gently pointed out to me by my colleague, Mike Shuttleworth, at the Centre for Youth Literature in Victoria, I’ve been a bit slack about my blogging lately. So here is a much-needed catch-up on what I’ve been up to with the Western Sydney young people’s literature program in the past few weeks.

I’m pleased to report that I have a number of projects pencilled- and penned-in on the calendar. Coming up in April is a zine workshop at Blacktown Council’s Youth WeekThe ‘Burbs” festival—April 12 at Blacktown Olympic Park.

Also attached to Youth Week is a creative writing competition for 12-18 year olds, coordinated by Blacktown City Libraries. There’s 700 word limit on entries, which should somehow connect to the Youth Week theme Shout! Share! Live! Unite! I’m thrilled that Melina Marchetta has agreed to judge the finalists in the competition and will speak at the competition’s presentation evening at Blacktown’s Max Webber Library on May 5. I’ll upload the poster tomorrow.

I’m really pleased that we will be hosting the only Sydney appearance of the creators of a new picture book Simpson and His Donkey (one of the first local titles to be released by Walker Books Australia). Illustrator Frané Lessac and writer Mark Greenwood (see their website here) will present 2 “Make Your Own Storybook” workshops for Years 5 and 6 students, and will also be talking about the book to an all-ages audience at a public event at Max Webber Library. Monday April 28—contact the library for booking information in a week or so.

Then on May 20 I will chair a session on fantasy/speculative fiction at the Max Webber Library as part of the Sydney Writers’ Festival. Panellists are D.M. Cornish (Monster Blood Tattoo), David Kowalski (The Company of the Dead) and Stuart Mayne, editor of Aurealis magazine.

I’ve also been busy with the following:

I was guest speaker at the University of Western Sydney, speaking to post-graduate Secondary English Method students about the western Sydney youth lit project, about engaging their soon-to-be students (they’ll be in the classroom next year) with fiction and about teaching creative writing. A lot to touch on in a two-hour session!

Attended the Australian School Library Assocation’s NSW conference, which was excellent. I imagine many of the librarians there were challenged and inspired by the keynote speech by Dr Ross Todd, who spoke about the importance of meeting young people at their level in terms of their engagement with technology, social networking and so on. I also attended some terrific workshop sessions looking at Indigenous writing and engaging “reluctant” writers by using the internet to develop creative writing skills. I believe the keynotes and workshops will be available on the ASLA NSW website at some point soon.

I also launched a book at the conference; Samurai Kids: White Crane by Sandy Fussell, illustrated by Rhian Nest James and published by Walker Books Australia. It’s a terrific book, full of adventure and action and some serious philosophical ideas based on the principals of Bushido—the Samurai code. Recommended for “middle school” readers, it’s the first in a planned series of books about the young warriors-in-training of the Cockroach Ryu (school), all of whom have particular personal challenges to face along with the more general challenges involved in their training. (A few more details and comments are available at my personal Misrule blog.)

And the western Sydney young people’s literature project was featured in an article in Monday’s Sydney Morning Herald. It’s a lovely article, written by young journalist Josephine Tovey, accompanied in the print version by an equally lovely photo of me with some kids from Tregear Public School in Mount Druitt. Also check out Jo’s opinion piece in today’s Herald about her experience attending a selective high school. It’s a very well argued piece which could well be used as a model for student writing.

That’s it for now. More soon—I promise!

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