It's amazing when you reconnect with a group of people who are talented, enthusiastic and willing to try new things. I'm now back in the library at a local school in a part time position and have been relishing the conversations and connections with my teacher librarian networks. At a recent PD day we talked about integrating a new framework for information literacy in school libraries, and shared ideas on classroom practices and innovations with literature and technology. It's so interesting and informative to see and hear how we incorporate similar techniques and pedagogies but in different ways so they make sense for our school situations. Technology, literature, music and craft ideas were presented and everyone went away with a myriad of ideas and inspiration. What a multi faceted, stimulating and future learning focussed group of educators!
'WithThisBookWeCan' was an idea that emerged from this day. This series of podcasts will be about discovering and sharing some creative ways with technology and thinking routines to bring literature to life in the classroom. Keep a look out for posts starting in a few weeks here and on Instagram from ideator and fellow TL Lynette Barker and myself.
Kerry: Hi Valerie and thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions on your new book Together We Ride for The Book Tree Blog Bites.
Valerie: Thanks for having me!
Kerry: What was the inspiration for this newest book?
Valerie: The inspiration for this story came from seeing children ride bikes while taking my daily “mental health walks” with my husband during the COVID shutdown. In particular, there was a five-year-old girl who had just learned how to ride a bike. Learning to ride a bike – without training wheels – is such an exciting milestone for children that I decided to write a story about that experience.
Kerry: Together We Ride is written in rhyme, as was your first book Let’s Dance!. Is it difficult to write in rhyme keeping the text minimal, but at the same time essential, to the story?
Valerie: For me, writing in sparse rhyme comes pretty naturally, so it’s not difficult. I do have to make sure that the rhyme works and, of course, that the story does, too. I enjoy the fun challenge of getting both right. Writing a 50,000 word novel, on the other hand, would be difficult for me.
Kerry: How critical do you think it is for children to see themselves reflected in stories?
Valerie: It’s absolutely critical for children to see themselves reflected in stories, Kerry. All children need to know that they are seen and heard, valued and validated. In particular, I want children from underrepresented backgrounds to see themselves in stories. Here’s an article I wrote about this topic: “Why Children Need to See Themselves in Books”.
Kerry: How do you see the role of school libraries in supporting authors, reading and literacy?
Valerie: School libraries play an essential role in supporting authors by purchasing their books and inviting them for author visits. These books and visits also support literacy. Meeting authors can inspire even the most reluctant readers. Having diverse libraries increases the chances that there will be books to capture everyone’s interests. How books are displayed in school libraries make a difference, too. What books are highlighted? What special ways are books exhibited? Are students encouraged to vote for their favorite books or to write reviews that can be posted next to books? School librarians can also sponsor writing and drawing contests.
Kerry: Do you share or ‘test drive’ your stories with anyone – students, family - before you submit them for publication?
Valerie: Certainly, Kerry. I would never submit a manuscript to my agent that hadn’t been revised numerous times with the input of my fabulous critique partners. I’ve also shared some stories with friends because they want to see what I’m working on. However, it’s important to have people provide critique who are studying and writing in the same genre as you. Recently, I’ve been writing an early chapter book, and I wanted to know how children would react to it. I read it with my nieces, and several of my CPs read it with their children. I received such valuable feedback.
Kerry: What has been the most helpful advice given to you on your journey to becoming an author?
Valerie: Keep going even when faced with rejection. Each “no” gets you that much closer to a “yes.” If you really want to write, you’ll keep doing it. If you really want to get published, you’ll keep querying. Self-publishing is also an option, though I don’t have personal experience with it. If it is your dream to become an author, you can make it happen ... even if it takes a while.
Kerry: Some great advice Valerie and thanks so much for sharing your thoughts with us.
Valerie Bolling is the author of LET’S DANCE! (SCBWI Crystal Kite Award winner and CT Book Award finalist) and has been an educator for almost 30 years. She is a member of SCBWI, the Authors Guild, NCTE, and ILA. She is also a 2020 WNDB Mentee and 2022 WNDB Mentor and a member of Black Creators HeadQuarters, The Brown Bookshelf and Highlights Foundation’s Amplify Black Stories, and 12X12 Picture Book Challenge. In addition, Valerie is a member of three co-marketing groups: Kid Lit in Color, Soaring 20s PBs, and PB Crew 22 as well as three picture book critique groups. She has two books scheduled for release in 2022 (TOGETHER WE RIDE and RIDE, ROLL, RUN: TIME FOR FUN!), five more slated for 2023 (TOGETHER WE SWIM, NEIGHBORHOOD JAM, and RAINBOW DAYS, a Scholastic early reader series), and one for 2024. linktr.ee/ValerieBolling
Release date April 26, 2022. Published by Chronicle Books
Full review available here
Writer's festivals are the best! You get to see and hear so many fantastic, engaging and inspirational writers whose work covers anything from faith to motherhood, politics to adventure stories, history to a humous look at the human race. This year's Newcastle Writers Festival was no exception and as a volunteer I got to meet some of the truly inspirational Australian writers.
Hannah Kent held a Q & A session about her new book Devotion. It was a fascinating insight into how this eloquent, softly spoken, brilliant young woman goes about her writing process. She spoke about where her ideas and inspiration come from, how she pieces them all together, and what drives her characters in this new and compelling novel. Her use of language in the book is so intuitive and draws the reader in from the first short chapter heading 'My heart is a hand reaching'.
My other favourite session was with Monica Dux and Sarah Krasnostein. Both have released books about faith and its influence on themselves and society. It was such a funny, poignant and engaging session and both women spoke about their own faith experiences with clarity and honesty. Lapsed and The Believer are two books you should definitely read and add to your YA 16+ high school library collection if you're a TL.
I was also privileged to meet the wonderful Jane Caro. Jane has just released her latest book The Mother, which is her first fiction novel for adults. The Mother chronicles the journey a mother takes to protect her daughter after she supposedly marries the man of her dreams. Everything is not as it seems as the daughter and her children slowly withdraw from family contact. Jane has been a staunch supporter of teachers, the creative arts and education for many years .
There were so many other wonderful writers at the festival this year but it was impossible to see them all! Suffice to say if you didn't get there this year, then make sure you do in 2023!
Find out more about Hannah Kent
Find out more about Monica Dux
Find out more about Sarah Krasnostein
Find out more about Jane Caro
It's been hard to write over the last month. Christmas and family time were fantastic but Omicron reared its ugly head and everyone became wary of life again, and that small window of feeling a little like normal was gone. We were in the centre of it here in my hometown and it was scary to be looking at everyone around you every time you left the house thinking 'Do they have it? Will I get it?' But then I told myself to get a grip and think of all the amazing frontline workers - nurses, doctors, teachers, grocery store workers, truckies - who have kept us going and who have had to live with that fear in much closer circumstances than me. I also remind myself that although any death from this insidious disease is hard, there are many others in many countries around the world who don't have the wonderful health and support systems we have access to, and just the fact that we can bitch about those systems and the politicians who supposedly run them, is a luxury they do not have.
So - it's cup half full for me. I'm home with family after years of living abroad, I have a very nice roof over my head, plenty of food and drink (despite the rush on sausages and toilet paper - seriously!), a new puppy who is just the cutest thing, and I've have decided to put head down and bum up and write as many positive and uplifting stories as I can to help make 2022 a better year than the last.
Hi Michelle and thanks for joining me to answer a few questions about your wonderful new book Sass and Traz Save The Library.
Kerry: Firstly, where did the idea for this book come from?
Michelle: I have been writing this book in my head for a long time. It is a love letter to libraries to thank them for being a safe space when I was growing up. Book characters are among some of my best friends and I hope readers will find some new friend in this book.
Kerry: Is the Ms Burns in the book very similar to the real Ms Burns?
Michelle: Ms Burns was my librarian in primary school. She was from America and had a laugh that filled up the whole library. Unlike the Ms Burns in the book, she wasn’t tall and didn’t have fake eyelashes, but she loved books and inspiring children more than anyone I had ever met.
Kerry: I love the way you talk about libraries being safe spaces and describe it as ‘a haven’ for Traz. Was the library your safe haven growing up?
Michelle: I was definitely one of the kids who spent nearly every lunch hour in the library, especially in high school. It was a place I visited my fictional books and escaped from reality for a while. Filling my head with fiction and non-fiction books was an important part of shaping who I am as a person and how much I value critical and creative thinking as well as education for all.
Kerry: Why twins as the other main characters in the story?
Michelle: This was a throwback to the books I loved as a child where the main characters were twins and always had the best adventures. My younger brother and I are very different, and I wanted to show that just because you are twins, doesn’t mean you think or act the same. I love the idea of twin telepathy and I have friends who are twins who tell me that it definitely does exist.
Kerry: Diversity is a key component in many of your stories including this one. How important is it for you to bring diversity into a story?
Michelle: It is very important to me that kids of all abilities can see themselves reflected in the books they read. I was very lucky as a child that I felt represented. It wasn’t until I became an author that I realised that not all kids were as lucky as me.
Kerry: What advice would you give to aspiring authors on incorporating diversity into their own writing?
Michelle: Start writing from a place of personal experience, but don’t be scared to reach out to diverse cultures and abilities to understand the world from their point of view. I think writing what you know is the most important place to start for any aspiring author, but I also think there is great potential to share our gift with others who don’t have a voice and help them represent themselves as well.
Kerry: Are the books and people you’ve brought to life in the story - literally! - ones that were your favourites growing up?
Michelle: I have loved pirates ever since I watched the Pirate Movie on repeat in the eighties. I was obsessed with King Arthur and the knights of the round table at University, when I was studying history, but have yet to find a movie that can live up to the books. Einstein’s theories have always been a fascination, as are all the historical figures who changed our world. There were so many more that I wanted to add, which will hopefully find a place in book 3!
Kerry: Ms Burns describes the books as ‘treasure’ to Blackbeard and his pirates. Is that how you see books too?
Michelle: Books are the best kind of treasure because they are different things to different people. They give us each exactly what we need.
Kerry: You’re a Children’s Rights Queensland ambassador and an Australia Reads ambassador. What drives your passion to be involved with these organisations?
Michelle: I am passionate about working with organisations that champion the rights of children, give them a voice and supply them with the tools to be the best they can be, regardless of economic or cultural barriers.
Kerry: In the book, Sass mentions ‘. . . we don’t even have a library at school anymore.’ What are your thoughts about the role of libraries and librarians in schools?
Michelle: It is a sad reality that some of the new schools I visit don’t have a full-time librarian, and some even don’t have a library. Books will always have a place in education, no matter how advanced our technology becomes. The benefits of reading a physical book on a young brain cannot be duplicated or improved on a device. Librarians are more than keepers of the books, they are the key holders and they can unlock confidence, inspiration and motivation for the kids who need it the most.
Kerry: Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts with us Michelle and best wishes for Sass and Traz Save The Library.
Published by Daisy Lane Publishing and OUT NOW. A must have for your younger readers library collection.
With thanks to Books On Tour PR & Marketing for helping to organise the interview and Daisy Lane Publishing for access to the digital copy of the book. Link to review here.
Are you carrying garlic? Are you careful not to tread on the cracks? Yes it's that spooky time of the year again! There are some fantastic stories that get read and published around this time of the year and I wanted to share some of my all time favourites.
First of all the picture books. The only really recent picture book one is Oliver Jeffers' There's A Ghost in this House (I love anything by that man!) and although not necessarily Halloween themed, the others are definitely spooky and ghostly. Sounds Spooky is fabulous story and the artwork and stop motion by Sarah Davis is outstanding. If you haven't read Gary Crew and Shaun Tan's The Viewer you really should as it's VERY creepy and I'm pretty sure it will send a shiver down your spine! I'd recommend that one in particular for older primary students. All the others are recommended for ages 6 - 10.
I've only included three middle grade ones this year. I know there are lots more out there but these are ones I could read again and again. The Greenglass House is a series of five books each equally enthralling. Kate Milford's series had me hooked from the beginning with the two captivating main characters and the game of Odd Trails. The Hungry Ghost by H. S. Norup is a wonderful story that gives an insight into the month of the hungry ghosts - a traditional Asian celebration that occurs during the seventh month of the Lunar calendar (so not always during Halloween) where the souls of the dead are believed to roam the earth and get up to lots of mischief if ignored! And last but not least is Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book. This has to be one of THE BEST opening chapters to a spooky story I've ever read. I literally could not put this one down and read it in a day. All of these are suitable for ages 11 +
Have fun reading these spectacularly spooky stories and don't forget to keep a lookout for shadows out of the corner of your eye!
It seems spring is the time for new releases here in Australia and there have been so many wonderful books come onto the market. All of the books below are stunningly illustrated and beautifully written and my favourites so far from this year and 2020. Whether you are a parent, a teacher or a librarian, they are all must haves for your collection. I think I'm going to have to have my bookcase extended. . . There are also a few writer competitions and publisher openings both here and overseas to dive into some of which I've listed here. Happy reading and writing wherever you are!
Twitter: Fall Writing Frenzy #fallwritingfrenzy Follow @LydiaLukidis and @KaitlynLeann17 for more details
Pitch It! Competition 2021 from Just Write For Kids. More information here
Cardinal Rule Press are open for picture book submissions from now until November 1st. More information here.
Revitalised, reinvigorated and ready to write again! It is SO good to be home in Australia. I know Covid is not great here right now, but I'm so thankful to be back in this wonderful country. Lockdown here is very different to lockdown in Vietnam and I feel for my friends and colleagues still there who are doing it so much tougher than I am. I walk the beaches near our house every morning revelling in the fresh air and the smell of the ocean. I walk to the local supermarket. I cook for my family and touch base with friends I haven't seen for two years. And I'm writing again. I am so very fortunate.
After 38 years of teaching around the world it's almost time to retire and say goodbye to living overseas. This will be my last full time year of teaching and my husband's last year as head of school. It's pretty special to finish it in a country that saw a lot of 'firsts' for both of us. We came to Vietnam back in 1994 when we started the first international school in the country since the war had ended. My husband was the founding principal and this was his first headship. Four other adventurous souls came with us and, because the original school building on Nam Ky Khoi Ngha street hadn't been finished, we began the school year in our living rooms - something we had never done before! We had 25 students and our daughter, who was three years old at the time, was the first student enrolled. We had already taught in PNG and Kathmandu (which is where we had adopted our beautiful daughter) but none of the other four had worked overseas. It truly was the chance and the adventure of a lifetime and, although we are not in constant touch with those that took that journey with us, we get together every now and then to reminisce and reflect on how fortunate we were to be in the right place at the right time for an unforgettable experience that set all of us on great career and life paths. That school is still going strong 28 years later and the school song that Pete and I wrote together all those years ago, is still sung at assemblies!
We returned four years ago to a run and work in a different international school. It is has been a rollercoaster ride with Covid-19 happening but it has still been a fantastic place to be and we feel so grateful to not only be given the opportunity to explore this beautiful country once more, but to also be in a country where the pandemic has been managed so well and where we feel safe.
So, one last trip to Nin Vanh Bay and Six Senses resort this week, and then in July, a trip on the Vietage Train. A fantastic and memorable way to retire! I hope that when travel starts up again you will come visit Vietnam and find it as enchanting and amazing as we have.