A Bookish Adventure

I started this blog to document an extended trip to the US and UK in 2012, introducing children to my Alice-Miranda series. It's hard to believe that it's just on four years since we launched the first Alice-Miranda title - and now there are nine books out in Australia with another five still to come. When I first came up with the idea of this precocious seven and a quarter year old, I had no clue that she would take me on such an amazing journey, not only in Australia but also across the world. I visited 37 schools while we were away in 2012 and gave over 80 talks - it was fantastic. In 2013 I've been on lots of new adventures in the UK - visiting schools from London to Southampton, Lancashire, Scotland, Newcastle and back to London again. After that I headed off to meet readers in Singapore. In Australia I've been to Melbourne, Perth, Albany, Alice Springs and Brisbane. There's a new series too - about a gorgeous little girl called Clementine Rose. She and Alice-Miranda don't know each other yet, but they will soon.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Books in Homes Wiley Park Public School Presentation

On Monday I had the pleasure of visiting Wiley Park Public School for their Books In Homes Assembly.  This is a fabulous program which allows students to select books that they get to take home and keep.  Books are given at the end of Term 1, 2 and 4 just before the school holidays.  Librarian extraordinaire, Gillian Maugle is an inspiration.  She was responsible, with her students for making the Books In Homes mascot and her library is somewhere that you just want to be.

I had a ball talking to the K-2 students first then the 3-6 children.  They were engaged and attentive and it was a lot of fun.  I was so impressed to hear their diverse range of ambitions from doctors and paramedics to postal workers and policemen.

Congratulations to Books In Homes and the University of Western Sydney for their support of this fantastic initiative.  As you can see from the photos - the children were thrilled to receive their books.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

8 Schools, 12 sessions, an interview on the ABC, a lovely dinner with the Alice Springs CBCA and a wonderful event at Alice Springs Public Library

What a week!  Alice Springs was fabulous with amazing hospitality from our hosts and tour guides Celia Otley and Ruth Jones.  Both ladies are former librarians and have been dedicated members of the NT CBCA (with President and Secretary roles to name but a couple of the many jobs they have done over the years).  Ruth was the brainchild behind the Alice Springs Children's Literature Festivals, of which they have now had three and Celia took over the reins of the last festival.

Tuesday morning, Ruth picked me and we headed across town to Living Waters Lutheran School, which we'd passed on our West MacDonnell Ranges tour the day before.  It's a beautiful school and the children were fantastic.  Their facilities are excellent too and the whole school has a lovely warmth about it.  The librarian, Kate was from Shrewsbury in Shropshire, England and then she'd lived in Preston in Lancashire (where Ian and I had visited during our trip to the UK in February and where we are heading back to in November).  That was a lovely coincidence.  Her daughter Scarlett is an avid Alice-Miranda fan and it was great to meet her too.

Our second school of the day saw us cross town (Ruth was hoping not to encounter any trains - as apparently they take about 7 minutes to run through).  I would have loved to see the Ghan while we were out there but it was not to be.  School number two was Ross Park Primary where I was greeted by three little girls dressed as Alice-Miranda, Millie and Jacinta!  I was so overwhelmed - they were absolutely gorgeous. 

Ruth and Celia swapped over chaperoning duties and Celia then took me to lunch at the Bean Tree CafĂ© in the Olive Pink Botanic Gardens.  Lunch which was delicious and highly recommended.  Olive Pink was a remarkable woman who campaigned for the rights of Indigenous people at a time when this would have caused considerable eyebrow raising - she also lobbied to have a garden in Alice Springs dedicated to arid zone plants.  Ruth joined us again and we headed into town to visit Bev, the owner of the very beautiful Dymocks store and meet up with my mother in law Joan, who had been on the hop on, hop off bus, visiting various sites around town that morning.  We found her in the shop along with a lovely display of Alice-Miranda and Clementine Rose books.

On Tuesday evening Joan and I walked down to the Juicy Rump restaurant at the hotel where we were staying and were surprised by how busy it was - then we realised that it was half price Tuesday and it seemed like half of Alice Springs had come out to get a steak!  We met a gorgeous couple from a property a long way north of Longreach in Queensland.  They had flown into Alice Springs on their way to Broome. Joan was particularly fascinated that they were flying their own little Cessna all the way across the country.  We had dinner with them and heard all about their life in the bush.

Wednesday morning saw us visiting ABC Alice Springs for an interview with the lovely Nadine.  It was great fun to talk to her and I hope that I can get a copy of the podcast at some stage.

We then made our way to Our Lady Of Sacred Heart in town where I talked to the Year 1-2 students, then Year 3-4.  There are three campuses for the school which goes from Kindergarten to Year 12.  It was great to meet the kids and the school was very welcoming.

It was then over to Yipirinya Indigenous School on the other side of town.  The Headmaster, Ken Langford-Smith greeted us warmly and we had lunch in the dining room with Margaret Kemarre James, the author of the Honey Ant Readers.  It was great to talk to her about her work developing these readers, which have now been produced in six Indigenous languages.  As it happened Margaret was on the same flight to Sydney as Joan and I on Friday and it was good to talk to her a little more about her work.

Lunch was a delicious tuna pasta bake.  All of the children are given breakfast and lunch each day and are bussed in from the various town camps.  I worked with one of the Year 3-4 classes.  The school caters to some of the most underprivileged children in the town.  I talked to the kids about where I came from and who my family was and showed lots of pictures.  I also told them some stories and asked them lots of questions.  I got a lot of cuddles too.

In the evening we were treated to a wonderful dinner at Ruth and Bob's place, a short drive from town.  It was great to meet the dedicated members of the local CBCA and some friends of Ruth and Bob's too.  Dinner was delicious.

On Thursday morning we headed to Bradshaw Primary School where I spent time with the Year 3-4 students, then the Year 5-6's.  Again, another group of interested kids with lots of great questions.  It was good to see the teachers enjoying themselves too.

Sadadeen Primary School came next.  It has a relatively small student population of just over 100 kids and is 85% Indigenous. The librarian Ailsa was so enthusiastic and had really prepared the children well for the visit.  It was great to meet so many staff too, including one of the teachers that the children thought was my double.  Apparently when the posters went up around the school, they kept asking her when her sister was coming to town.  I could see why they thought we had a resemblance.

Our final school for the day was Larapinta, one of the largest schools in town, where Ruth had been founding librarian and where there is a plaque commemorating her work in the library.  Current librarian Sue greeted us very warmly and we had a wonderful time meeting the students, some of whom then came to the public library event immediately after school.  Sue came along too.

It was wonderful to have such great support, so far from home.  I was thrilled to see quite a few of the children I'd met earlier in the week at the library as well as students who I hadn't seen but had heard I was in town.  One little girl and her family were from Ceduna in South Australia and were travelling and heard I was going to be there.  The little girl was a great fan and it was amazing to be able to meet them in the middle of Australia.

Friday came far too quickly.  Our final school for the tour was Braitling, one of the larger schools with about 300 students.  There is a large number of Indigenous children, many of whom are bussed in from the town camps. The librarian Sara explained that they have a number of initiatives as part of the Northern Territory Intervention and they were seeing great results.  I have to say that their students were fantastic - so well behaved and interested.  It was a joy to work with them.

Ruth took Joan and I for a cup of coffee and I managed a quick last minute visit to some of the galleries.  I had been for a look on Wednesday afternoon - and had fallen in love with many art works.  My husband is an avid collector of Indigenous art and hence there's not much space on the walls at home.  I had the pleasure of meeting Mary Pitjara when she was delivering some paintings to one of the galleries.  I'm in love with her Bush Yams and am hoping she might deliver a slighter smaller picture soon - I think it could have my name on it.

Our trip was over way too soon.  Ruth drove us to the airport as Celia had left earlier in the morning enroute to Turkey!  I was amazed that she'd had any time at all to drive me around during the week but she is a seasoned traveller and seemed completely unfazed.  I hope she's having a terrific time on her tour. 

I haven't seen anywhere near as much of Alice Springs as I would have liked, so there's only one thing for it - I'll have to go again!

Alice-Miranda in Alice Springs - the outback tour begins!

Last Sunday morning Alice-Miranda, my mother in law, Joan and I boarded a Qantas plane bound for Alice Springs.  It would be a new experience for all of us and I was really excited to be visiting the centre of Australia.  To say that Alice Springs is green at the moment is an understatement.  The shocking contrast of red and patches of green grass was unexpected to say the least. 

On Monday (the Queen's Birthday Public Holiday) my mother in law and I were booked to go on a small coach tour of the West MacDonnell Ranges.  When the driver arrived I asked if there were many people coming along (our hotel was the first pick up) and when he said that it was a very small group I immediately enquired if we could take someone else.  His response was a very enthusiastic yes - even after he realised that the someone was Alice-Miranda.

So we boarded the bus and set off with Alice-Miranda in the front passenger seat, much to the delight of the passengers already with us.  Others who joined us along the pickup were slightly more perplexed. 
The outback is vast, with a sky that seems to stretch on forever and red ranges that create a spectacular backdrop.  We visited Standley Chasm, Ellery Creek Bighole (the most beautiful water hole where lots of locals go to swim but only when it's really hot.  Anything sub 35 I'm told is still too cold - and the water is always chilly), the Ochre Pits, Glen Helen Gorge for a delicious lunch and on the return run we spent a couple of hours at Ormiston Gorge.  I climbed to the lookout and then walked the long way back, in the hope of getting a glimpse of a black footed rock wallaby.  We spotted one - high on the cliff on a ledge.  I was glad I had the zoom on the camera to look at him.


The return trip also saw us stop at Simpson's Gap - another beautiful spot and apparently a popular wedding destination, only about 18 kilometres from Alice.  Our final point of interest was John Flynn's grave - which up until recently had been marked with one of the Devil's Marbles.  It was returned not so long ago and a new stone of similar proportions installed.  Flynn is the pioneer who started the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

Our tour guide, John, was a mine of information, from the fact that the layer of red on the rocks is thinner than a strand of human hair and below it the mountains are quartz, to the history of Alice Springs and that Sir Charles Todd, Superintendent of the Telegraphs named the place Alice Springs after his wife Alice - who never visited the town.  At least my Alice visited the Alice!

I only wished we'd had more time to explore.  I'd love to see Hermannsberg and King's Canyon and of course, Uluru.  But there were schools to visit and children to see and I couldn't wait to see what the rest of the week would bring


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

St Christopher's Catholic Primary School Holsworthy, Mount Colah School, Ascham, St Anne's Strathfield South, St Columba's Leichhardt, Leichhardt Public School and St Luke's Dee Why

I hadn't realised just how far behind I have been on the blog (lots of touring and editing lately) and so I've decided to do some big catching up, combining tour weeks together.  Life has continued to be a whirl through April and May and I fear if I don't catch up now, I never will!

In early May I had a great time visiting St Christopher's School in Holsworthy where I spoke with the girls from Years 3-6.  They were very enthusiastic and asked great questions.  Lunch was delicious too!

I loved visiting Mount Colah Public School, which is just a little further north from where I live.  Set among the trees, the school is picturesque.  The students were terrific and it was great to meet the librarian, Jennifer and her assistant and a local bookseller I hadn't met before, Carolyn Rettalick as well as the Principal who came to watch my presentation.  I spoke to the girls (although you may notice there are two boys in the photo below with some of the students - they came along to my talk and had me sign books for their sisters) and they asked great questions and were very keen readers of Alice-Miranda and Clementine Rose.
A couple of weeks later I visited St Anne's Strathfield, a small school with incredibly enthusiastic readers.  I couldn't quite believe how many books I signed there - something like 85 books for a population of 140 children.  Flory Cavallo, the librarian who looks after St Anne's and St Columba's is a great lady who obviously shares her love of books with the students.  She's also a superstar at morning teas - and an enemy of my waistline!
I visited Ascham in Edgecliff the next day and managed to have a dream run with almost no traffic at all.  I always enjoy seeing the Ascham girls and they didn't disappoint - although sadly there are no photos from the morning.  I wish I had been able to film the little girl who took on the role of Mr Sparks the snorer - I've never seen anything like it and clearly she is destined for a life on the stage.
On Thursday I headed over to Leichhardt for the day.  I wasn't worried about getting to St Columba's on time, until for whatever reason the traffic, which had been flowing well, came to a complete standstill on Victoria Road.  The minutes were ticking by way too quickly and although I thought I'd left home with an hour to spare, turns out the traffic beat me and I was a little bit late.  Grrr - Sydney traffic can be so unpredictable.  It was no problem though, as Flory adjusted the schedule and we were on track in no time.  Again the children were so enthusiastic and I loved meeting them.
Zoe and I visited Shearer's Bookshop at lunchtime.  I'm sad that they've had to move out of their beautiful space in Norton Street but as always Barbara and Tony have done a terrific job with their relocation to The Marketplace - making the best of the situation (and a couple of weeks later winning Independent Bookseller of the Year and Bookshop Marketing Campaign of the Year at the Australian Book Industry Awards).  I managed a spot of 5 minute shopping too - at the Italian Shoe Shop in  Norton Street :)   

In the afternoon I visited Leichhardt Public School - it's a big place and the children were lots of fun.  Completely engrossed and wonderful participants.  It was great to have the event at the end of the day as lots of the children brought their parents back to buy books and have them signed.

My final school on this leg of the tour was St Luke's Dee Why.  I worked with the wonderful Jane Coffey from Novella Books in Wahroonga.  I had been looking forward to going to St Luke's as one of my old colleagues, Sue Jenkins is the librarian there for the Junior School.  The campus has undergone some major building works in recent times and is looking fantastic.  I had a great time talking to the students in Years 3-5.  I will add a photo once I can access the one I have :)

Touring is great fun - it's a joy to meet students and teachers and a privilege to have an opportunity to visit so many schools.

Sacred Heart School Villawood

I recently had the pleasure of visiting Sacred Heart School at Villawood.  The children were fabulous and so enthusiastic.  They had created some wonderful shields and school mottos based on Alice-Miranda At School.  Something I talk to the children about is their ambitions - which are always fabulous and range from doctors and lawyers to archaeologists and teachers and just about everything in between.  This morning one little girl with a puff of blonde hair told me quite seriously that she was going to be a princess when she grows up.  I guess Princess Mary and Duchess Kate are living proof that although openings are limited, being a princess is not completely out of the realm of possibility.

I had a ball doing some drama activities and the students I selected were absolutely perfect in their roles.  It was a pleasure to visit.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Catching Up

The past month or so has flown by with lots of school visits (which I will write about over the coming week), editing two books and getting some renovations done around the house.  At the moment we're having a small extension built - which will mean that I can finally move from the dining room table to the study.  It will be great to have a more delineated work space.  I might post some photographs once it's done (and finally contribute something to Tristan Bancks' blog about where writers work).