Friday, 13 September 2013

It's all about me...

In a week dominated (for children's writers and illustrators, anyway) by news about the uncertain future of the School Journal, it was a joy to go along to an event that celebrated children's writing, delivered by people who are passionate about it.

The Turnbull Library is currently running an exhibition called Logs to blogs: diaries from the Turnbull Library, with an accompanying programme of talks.

I've managed to hear two of them: Dr Kate Hunter talking about Measly scribbling and notes-to-self: First World War soldiers' and nurses' diaries, and It's all about me: fictional diaries in children's literature.

The event room, filled with listeners

Katrina Young-Drew and Linda Forbes are National Library school library advisersDylan Owen is a development specialist who also works for Services to Schools. I was expecting to hear a good talk, but I wasn't prepared for the amazing range of diaries that they came up with, starting with what Linda described as "The ultimate first diary" complete with an entry for each day of the week, a happy ending, lots of eating and a brief snapshot of a life - or in this case, a life-cycle - because it was, of course, The very hungry caterpillar

Amongst a number of other picture books, Katrina singled out Jackie French's Diary of a wombat for the clever way it presents opposing points of of view, often through the interplay between text and image. She suggested that children love the wombat in this book because they can relate to the persistent attention-seeking methods it uses to get its own way; while noisy and demanding, it remains loving and lovable.

Dylan gave a great overview of Graham Oakley's Church Mice picture books, first published in 1973 in "the golden age of children's illustration" (so this year celebrating their 40th anniversary.) The books show an astonishing level of detail, of a sort that Graham Oakley himself admits has fallen out of fashion today, but is still fascinating to look at. Dylan read some very funny excerpts, starting from January 1st when "absolutely nothing happened."

From picture books to junior fiction: Katrina mentioned several books I hadn't heard of before, including Sophie Scott goes south, with art work from the Kids Antarctic Art Project, by Alison Lester (one of Australia's first two Children's Laureates.)

Another book I hadn't heard of was The matchbox diary by Paul Fleischman - proving that diaries don't have to be written on paper.

By now, the three speakers were running out of time and we could see there were lots of enticing slides and titles that they didn't get around to, but they did have time to talk about Archie's war, The secret diary of Adrian Mole aged 13 3/4 and The absolutely true diary of a part-time Indian. I'm sure if they had time (because they had some of these books out on display) they would have mentioned the My New Zealand story series, fictional diaries published by Scholastic.

And they chose a lovely place to finish, with this quotation from Anne Frank: "I want to write, but more than that I want to bring out all kinds of things that lie buried deep in my heart."

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