On the eve of Library Lover’s Day (14 February), I thought it was a good time to reflect on the process of making my latest picture book, Yay! It’s Library Day.
Yay! It’s Library Day is the second book that has come out of the Wombat Books Illustration Challenge. The competition was the brainchild of Wombat owner and publisher, Rochelle Manners. I still remember the phone call I received from Rochelle in 2014 when she asked me to be involved in the program.
I was driving through busy, inner city Melbourne on author tour, trying to navigate my way to my next storytime visit at a preschool. When Rochelle rang, I pulled the car over and sat talking to her for some time about the concept she’d developed. Across the road from me was an apartment building covered top-to-toe in greenery – a vertical garden.
Rochelle’s idea was to create a competition for children to enter their illustrations in and which would result in their work being published in a real, hard copy picture book. This would not only engage the community in Wombat Books and my work but would also provide a tangible achievement for budding your artists. Rochelle has always been interested in unearthing new talents and the challenge was the perfect vehicle for her to foster children’s illustration work.
I was tasked with developing a picture book story that could be illustrated by multiple children. I thought long and hard about the story that I would create, realising that it would have to provide a wide variety in scenes because each illustrator’s page or spread would be very different to the one before it. The story couldn’t necessarily focus on one character because each child would draw that character differently. It was clearly going to be more effective to have different scenes within the book that young illustrators could draw.
The idea of setting the story in a zoo came to me. I love animals as most people would know from the books that I write, children love and are familiar with zoos, and they hold a wide variety of animal characters that could be drawn by the challenge entrants. Quite quickly after developing my setting, the concept of a boy called Ned chasing his ball through the zo followed. A rhyme about Ned taking his ball to the zoo and losing it, with all the animals joining in to play with the ball formed. I worked on the text and polished it ready to send to Wombat.
That story, Zoo Ball, became the basis for the first Illustration Challenge. We received several hundred entries from children across Australia and once the book was released I conducted a tour of several cities launching the books at schools where the winning illustrators attended.
Launching Zoo Ball with winning cover artist, Alyssa Teoh
Due to the success of the first challenge, Rochelle asked me to create a second story. It was back to the drawing board to consider what would work for a variety of scenes once more. This time, I lighted upon the idea of children visiting a library and enjoying the many, treasured books that would be held there. The story would focus on books, literacy, libraries and, of course, children’s imaginations as they interpret the stories that are being read to them.
I’m not usually an author who writes in rhyme, but again this one flowed out as a rhyming text. Considering that it was the second book in the ‘series’ that wasn’t such a bad thing. It all fit nicely. The rhyme also provided a jaunty rhythm for the story. Again, once the manuscript was polished and ready, Wombat opened the competition up to entrants. This time, we received over six hundred entries, a huge testament to the growth in the competition and the success of the first challenge.
Between the team at Wombat any myself, we spent many long hours choosing the winning entrants. It was incredibly difficult to pick from the deep pool of talent and I really wish we could have included every child who had entered. It’s not only the talent that strikes you with these children’s entries, it’s the effort they go to and the passion they have for their artwork.
Yay! It’s Library Day was released on 1 February. It’s a beautifully produced book and it’s already receiving great reviews – including those from teacher-librarians, which is especially gratifying. The book has a lot to offer, obviously with its focus on literacy and the imagination, but also on the importance and value we should be placing on libraries.
In a world where libraries and bookstores are shutting down or being reduced or restricted in their resources, where visit/borrowing statistics are dropping, and where teacher-librarians at schools are losing their jobs, it’s time that we take a good, hard, long look at what libraries can offer us and the generations to come. We need to focus on and fight for what’s good in the world. We need to hold onto our books, read them to children and use all of the wonderful resources (including story time sessions and cosy reading nooks!) that libraries can offer us.
If you’ve not checked out Yay! It’s Library Day or Zoo Ball before, you can find them at www.wombatbooks.com.au. Every page in each of the books offers something new as we see different illustrators featured throughout and, of course, that wide variety in scenes. There are so many details and a myriad of hidden treasures on each page for young readers to discover.
Yay! It’s Library Day is a celebration of all libraries and it’s also the celebration of the achievements of young Australians. Every illustrator featured in the book can be proud of themselves.
Because libraries are undergoing such straightened circumstances, a coalition of Australian school library associations has formed to advocate nationally for the reinvigoration of school libraries. You can read their informative letter below. I urge you to get involved in the campaign in March called School Libraries Matter! if you can.
Happy Library Lovers Day – please celebrate it and support it.
Internal artwork for Yay! It's Library Day
You may not be aware that across Australia, many school libraries are being stripped of their resources and qualified library staff. At the same time, some other schools are investing heavily in their library staffing and resourcing.
Most parents have no idea that this is happening. They assume that there is a qualified teacher librarian supporting their child’s reading and research skills.
In the face of Australia’s falling ranking in educational outcomes among OECD countries and rapidly changing expectations for the future workforce, a coalition of Australian school library associations has formed to advocate nationally for the reinvigoration of school libraries. We believe that all children need excellent school library services delivered by qualified staff to get the digital and information literacy skills required to succeed in the 21st century.
Please join our (fast-growing) list of supporters working to provide opportunities and protect the well-being of our children:
We plan to launch a national campaign in March 2018 called School Libraries Matter! The campaign will target parents with the goal of informing them about school libraries and
sparking them into action to advocate at their child’s school.
We are focussing our message strongly on the detriment to research skills and digital literacy caused by resources being stripped from school libraries because these are of high concern to parents, and they are part of teacher librarians’ specialist skills. Things like:
Qualified library staff also assist with:
How you can help:
Take a look at pp. 14-15 of this document for links to research supporting our claims: https://www.education.act.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0020/916301/School-Libraries-21st-Century.pdf
Please let me know how you would like to be involved. We would be absolutely delighted to have your support in this campaign!
In hopeful anticipation and with kind regards from,
Hajnalka Molloy (on behalf of)
www.schoollibrariesmatter.org.au (Website currently being built)
Member of the School Library Coalition
Teacher Librarian and AEUACT member
Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays
Lake Tuggeranong College
123 Cowlishaw Street
Tuggeranong ACT 2900
Phone: (02) 6207 5713 or 6207 6856
My teenage boys love to play with words, to dissect them and subvert them.
They seem to create a litany of corrupted words and phrases at an alarming rate that they alone know the meaning of.
Often, the words or word variations will spring from the pop culture that they consume avidly: from YouTube videos, movies, memes, video games and clips.
At other times, they’re inspired by funny or silly things that happen at school or at home. Tongue-tied, blurting, stuttering, embarrassing, or frustrating situations that have caused someone to accidentally say a word that never was – and this is the ‘new’ word they hang on to for months and months as they play with it and repeat it like a mantra until it evolves into something with meaning and portent that goes far beyond the original intent.
My father, God love him, with four kids to discipline got so frustrated with one of my sisters one day that he couldn’t say her name properly What resulted was a twisted version of several of our names put together that sounded like, ‘Mah-blur’. We never let him live that one down and repeated that for years afterwards.
When I was a teenager, one of our slang words was ‘blood’. Okay, this is a normal word, it’s in the dictionary, and we all know what it is and what it means. But as teenagers we subverted and changed the meaning. Blood = Good/Great/Awesome in our books.
So, if someone had created a beautiful artwork, we’d say, ‘That’s blood’, which meant that it was fantastic. It was one of the highest compliments you could give anyone.
If you’d just won a race at the athletics carnival and beaten your PB and someone said to you, ‘Well done, that’s blood’ you would have known that they were impressed. ‘Blood good’ was almost like a clarifier and it meant that something was very, very good.
This confused teachers and adults no-end and only inspired us to use it more. The meaning could be changed slightly, too.
‘I’m blood going swimming’ meant that you were definitely going swimming.
Weird, yes, but we thought we were so clever. We were forming our own language that adults weren’t a part of. And there’s nothing better as a teenager than excluding adults from the Club of Youth.
You’ve heard stories of babies, and often twins, developing their own language. I think the need and desire to develop our own language extends beyond babyhood. Words are regularly being added to the dictionary, especially those that relate to the technology field.
My eldest, Blake, loves to make new words and to play with words and phrases. He loves sounds and tones. He seems obsessed with word play and uses much of his word subversions to create humour. I only wish he’d use this cleverness with words more often in his writing assignments!
Blake can recite the LEGO Ninjago and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles theme songs (and others) at a rapid rate in an incredibly funny voice. Our youngest, three-year-old Finn, watches these shows ad nauseum and even though Blake doesn’t sit in the room watching or listening to the shows with Finn, the theme songs have clearly gone into his brain somehow … only to come out in a rapid-fire repeat at multiple times throughout the day.
One of the many, many slang words the kids have come up with in the last few months is ‘Yeet’. I think that’s how it’s spelt. I have no dictionary entry or definition to help me as I can’t find it anywhere.
Have you heard your children use it? Please let me know if you’re aware of other usages, definitions or spellings!
In essence, yeet means to throw or hurl something, usually with great force and in quite a humorous way.
The boys have used it so much within their own peer circles that everyone now knows what it means and on occasion my husband will use the word too. It’s entered popular vernacular, at least in our household.
Teenage boys are a delight, a challenge and an inspiration.
The other slang/subverted usage of a word we've seen enter the house lately is 'potato'. This term can apply to anyone who is uncoordinated or a little ungainly, or to the action of being uncoordinated or ungainly. Such as 'that was a potato throw'. So, next time you trip over or throw an off curve-ball, you'll be able to tell yourself that you're a potato.
Interestingly, the other usage of 'potato' is a little more obscure and relates to film-making. If someone shoots an iPhone or iPad video that's shaky, moving around a lot and generally of poor quality, it's referred to as 'potato quality filming'. This is not a compliment! Go figure. I'm laughing as I write this by the way, because the entire concept is quite ridiculous and of course only makes sense to the young. And typing that makes me feel so old!
If nothing else, my boys do make me laugh...
The question is, to get the YA voice right, do we use popular vernacular, colloquialisms and slang? It’s tempting, isn’t it? It feels right to do this at times, too. We’re trying to nail the modern teenager’s voice in our novel, why wouldn’t we use the actual words that they’re likely to use?
Popular (and publisher) opinion usually tells us to steer clear of using slang, however. Words like ‘cool’ have been around for years and authors sometimes do include these. They’re a little bit more classic and have longevity, although, at times they sound and feel dated, too. Not many teenagers say ‘cool’ these days, but adults writing YA books still like to slip them in now and then.
The problem with slang is that it can be very localised (although with the advent of YouTube and social media platforms for young children, I have also slang words spread like wildfire across Australia) and they don’t stick around for long. They become replaced, dated and forgotten quickly as children move onto the next entertainingly subversive word.
Children and teenagers are nothing if not fickle!
As it takes a long time to write, edit, submit then get your manuscript accepted, printed and on the shelves, by the time that book’s out one or two years after the inclusion of your little slang gem, it’s likely that word has been long forgotten and is now so dated that it’s become – sadly – ‘uncool’ to use it any longer. The shame!
So, for the longevity and widespread popularity of your book, best to avoid most slang words. Cling onto a few pearls if you feel you must, or if they truly add to your story or characterisation, or if you’re writing a novel or screenplay where one of the character invents their own language (aka Nell by Jodie Foster).
For the most part, though, if you want your readers to understand the true meaning of your words and to think that you’re a cool, hip, blood good author, then you’ll stick to the standard, regular, everyday words that we all know.