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.
I've just voted in this year's Crystal Kites Awards as part of the International Central group. The shortlist offered a wide variety of really interesting, funny and beautiful stories and it was hard to choose just one! All of the stories would be great additions to a school library collection and wonderful for diversity and inclusion for readers. If you haven't voted yet, here's the link and a look at the choices below.
Another teaching moment that made me smile happened with my Year 5 class this week. We we're looking at Endangered Animals and brushing up on research techniques, keyword searching, copyright and citations. There were some great discussions happening about why the animals they'd chosen were endangered, how we could find out more, where we could find out more and what we could possibly do to help.
One of the students was researching the Northern White Rhino and shared the information that there are only two left in the world and that both are female. 'So why can't they get them to have more babies?' one of my ten year olds asked. 'Because there are no more males left. The last one died in 2018' I explained. 'But can't they make them pregnant?' he persisted. 'Well you need a male and a female to make the babies' I ventured. 'But why do you need the male?' he continued. 'Because you need the male's sperm to help the female get pregnant.' 'Oh,' he says. 'What's sperm?' 'It's like DNA,' one of the others piped up in a knowledgeable tone.
And with that sorted, we thankfully moved on to other things! Sometimes research can get a bit tricky. . . .
It's been a tough 2020/2021 for everyone but one of the things that keeps me going is teaching the little ones at my school. This week turned out to be a week of smiles with some of my favourite teacher librarian moments.
My kindergartners are doing a unit on Fairy Tales in their regular class, so I thought I'd mix it up and give them a new way of looking at princesses and Cinderella tales by reading them Babette Cole's Prince Cinders and Princess Smartypants. They are definitely not new but I love Babette, and think she was ahead of her time when it came to gender equality, identity and empowerment of women.
When I showed the class the cover of Princess Smartypants, mister four and a half piped up and said, 'I don't like stories about princesses because there's so much girl stuff in them.' 'What's 'girl stuff'?' I asked to which he replied, 'You know - lots of things that are pink, lots of ponies, the boys having to save the girl ALL the time - and lots of kissing!' 'Hmmm. . ' says I. 'Well, there's not much pink in this one, but there is a pony. Oh and there's a dragon, a motorbike and a racing car in there too. Let's see what you think when we've finished reading.'
After the first few pages he was giggling at all the crazy situations her prince suitors had gotten themselves into and laughed out loud after Princess Smartypants kissed the prince and turned him into a big, fat, ugly toad!
'So what did you think about the story?' I asked him. 'It was soo funny. I really liked when she kissed the prince and turned him into a toad. And none of the boys had to rescue her 'cause she was really smart!' Thanks Babette. It all starts somewhere. . . .
Oh - and her books on reproduction and puberty are told in a funny and informative way without being clinical and confronting. If you don't have these two in your collection for sex education you need to get them - Hairy In Funny Places and Mummy Laid An Egg. They are brilliant.
Sadly Babette passed away in 2017 but her warmth and humour live on in her wonderful stories. Check them out on her website Babette Cole.
Tet or Lunar New Year is upon us with the Year of the Ox being heralded in this Friday. It's meant to be a time of celebration here in Vietnam and a time of sharing, of hope, and of family. For those lucky enough to have family close, their celebrations, although subdued, will be together. For those whose families are further away, it means finding friends to celebrate with instead this year. This is because last week saw a resurgence of Covid, which brought with it remote learning and another lockdown - just before celebrations are about to kick off. But I still count us among the fortunate, as Vietnam has done an amazing job of being on top of any outbreaks and keeping cases to a minimum.
We were lucky enough to squeeze in our school Tet celebration before last week, which meant I got to participate in my last one before heading home to Australia next July. It was colourful, noisy and as always, great fun. Happy Year of the Ox!