Danielle Binks and #LoveOzYA

SLAV Mornington Peninsula Term 3 Meeting – 7 September 2017

I was a bit late (short-staffed in the library – who’da thunk it!) and missed the intro and preamble (sorry Danielle!). We pick up the story at the point where DB is discussing the US Book Expo (think Bologna – but US).

2014 – There are no women on the YA panel. No PoC either. The YALit community get (understandably) a bit shirty. The #weneeddiversebooks hashtag is started as a way of discussing and highlighting the huge lack of diversity on the panel.

2016 – The organisers flag that they have taken the diversity criticisms on board. The guests are: 18 white men, 12 white women, 1 grumpy cat. Although a minor the improvement, it was noted that the cat gets more airtime than PoC and women. Organisers are amazed that people are still cranky!

In 1985, the CCBC (The Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin) conducted its first annual survey of books written by African Americans, prompted by the then-director serving on the Coretta Scott King Award committee. They found that of the “2,500 trade books that were published in 1985, only 18 were created by African Americans”: .0072% of the books published in that year were written by African Americans. WTAF?! (Trust me, I don’t believe it’s any better in Australia!) In more recent years, they have been collecting a wider array of data, and you can check that out on their website (link above).

In 2014, there were 3,500 books published in the US by US authors. They CCBC found that: 85 were written by authors who identified as African Americans, 20 by First Nations peoples, 129 by authors with Asia Pacific heritage, and 59 by Latinos. Even if you add all those authors of colour together, it’s still only .084 of the total number of books published in the US in that year. Not much of an improvement in almost 20 years.

This clearly demonstrates that #weneeddiversebooks is a legitimate cry, and that the publishing industry is slow to change.

A little bit on WeNeedDiverseBooks – they have a website that you should check out, as there are lots of resources, lists, etc, etc, available there. Note that it is US-centric, but still legit.

And talking about hashtags – in 2015 ALIA released lists of the books most borrowed from public libraries (there are issues in this sample, but more on that later). Most of the Top 10 lists had a 50/50 distribution between Australian and OS authors, but the Top 10 Borrowed Books for Young Adults had….drum roll….two Australian authors – Ellie Marney (Every Breath) and Markus Zusak (The Book Thief)!

This gobsmackingly skewed result reverberated around the YALit community, and the hashtag #LoveOzYA was born (I wrote an article about this for CBCA Vic – but they’ve killed it 😦 I resurrected it here!). Anyhoo, the OzYA community made that hashtag go nuts, and started a worldwide discussion about Australian YA.

DB believes that ‘Australian’ is a sensibility, not a setting. And I agree with that. It includes our vernacular – Vegemite (not Marmite or Promite), milk bar (not corner store or bodega), but is also reflected in our attitudes – for example, Fraillon’s The Bone Sparrow addresses our fears of being rejected (in comparison, the US writers are addressing the idea of being ejected).

Continuing with the results of the Most Borrowed books, in 2016 and 2017 there were no Australian authors on the YA list. When you look at the titles on the list, it’s clear that they all had the benefit of huge film advertising budgets – something that Australian titles do not have access to. In addition, the stats only reflect the books that have been borrowed, not who actually borrowed them. Danielle speculated that the books could have been borrowed by adults for young people, who may not have actually even read the book, or even for themselves – and she made reference to the audience in the room, whom she assumes are like her: an adult YA reader who has never stopped reading YA.

Begin, End, Begin, the anthology that Danielle edited and contributed a story to,  aims to present a diverse range of authors and genres to a YA audience. One of the driving ideas behind the compilation is to present a collection of stories that have a uniquely Australian sensibility and place. Imagine the YA landscape without Puberty Blues – surely a prime example of ‘Australia’, and a book that shone a light on a burgeoning feminist understanding, where girls began to assert their rights as people.

Danielle asked – Where is the crossover between WNDB and #LoveOzYa? She feels that both are working towards equality , inclusivity and diversity.

Part of understanding this inclusiveness is working to mark your collection reflect the variety of cultures and people within your school. At Reading Matters 2017, Emma White, Children’s and Youth Services Librarian at Yarra Libraries, spoke frankly about how she put Yarra’s YA collection through a diversity audit – and chucked out thousands of books. What she didn’t expect was the response from young people. Once the collection was cleared of its old and out-dated fiction, the borrowing stats went through the roof. Patrons could see the collection, and, more importantly, see themselves on the shelves.

Danielle encouraged the audience to do the following:

  • Ditch your book subscription – regardless of which company you are with;
  • Get educated about where to buy diverse books: for Indigenous books try Magabala, BackRoom Press, Australian Studies Press, and the Small Press Network;
  • Check out LoveOzYA website for lists, events, posters and more;
  • Stella Schools, run by the Stella Prize committee, is all about creating gender parity in publishing, and has resources for getting more books by and about women into schools, and they also have an ambassadors program where authors visit schools to talk about the importance of hearing from everyone in the community;
  • The VCAA list was mentioned, but I think that this is a furphy. A quick look at the 2017 lists revealed that the English list has 18 texts, of which 8 are by women and 10 by men. the EAL list is 50/50 in a list that has 16 texts;
  • Lastly, Danielle advises to buy from local/ Australian booksellers – Farrell’s, Robinsons, Dymocks, Booktopia, Reading, Beaumaris Books, etc. This benefits the community twice.

The final part of the talk was devoted to talking about graphic novels and comics. Danielle has been in contact with the owner of The Comic Place in Playne Street, Frankston, who is keen to work with schools o the Peninsula to bring good quality comix to young people.

A recommended new release with Fence by C.S. Pacat and Johanna The Mad, through BOOM! Studios, and places that you can go to for comics and related info, both online and in person, are: The Hawkeye Initiative; Eisner Studios; Boom! Studios, and Graus Comix by Robinsons, Minotaur, there are heaps.

Lastly, don’t discount where your young adult readers are getting their stories from. Fan Fiction is huge, and YA readers and writers are often immersed in this self-publishing culture. Embrace the reading wherever you find it – you might be surprised.

And remember that, even though we all love ourselves some YA, it’s not written for us. If you’re at a launch, signing or event that is primarily aimed at a YA audience – get out of the way, and let your mantra be #teenstothefront.

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Dylan Wiliam – Day Two

Look, I have to say that this was the day I was really looking forward to. The anticipation of getting stuck into the nitty-gritty of how to ‘do’ formative assessment was high!

But, the day was not quite as good as I hoped. Sure we talked about FA, but a lot of it was stuff we’d already covered in Teaching and Learning meetings. For the MG team, the conference would have been better as a half-day recap followed by a day and a half of working on FA techniques.

Perhaps DW just intends it as a taster, a way to get schools to get him in and talk specifics. I wouldn’t be averse to that!

The end of the day went slowly, as my brain slowly filled up. Too much information in too short a time. As an introvert (see Susan Cain’s excellent website on Medium for clarity around this term) I need time to process what I’ve heard and seen. Sometimes, having every minute of the day taken up with presentations and exercises is not productive.

Nevertheless, I’ve collected the day’s tweets in a Storify, with the link below.

https://storify.com/MiffyF02/dylan-wiliam-embedding-formative-assessment-oct-13

Dylan Wiliam – Day One (of Two)

Up at 6am – (This is 11 mins before my alarm usually goes off and 30 mins before I would normally get out of bed. I do love my ‘snooze’ button). Drive to Mentone Station. Park car. Get on platform. Check Myki (good to go). Forget to swipe on (more on that later). Check PTV planner app for next train. All good. Station announcement. “The Frankston Line is currently experiencing delays of between 4 and 9 minutes, due to signal problems at Cheltenham.” By my calculations, the train I wanted to catch is already 12 minutes late, so you can imagine what the platform looks like. Train arrives. Get on. Squish my suitcase into a corner and stand. And stand. And stand. And get squished. Because the further up the line you go, the more people try to squish on. The train is stopping all stations. So it’s slow. And it’s packed. And there’s a backlog. So it’s more than usually slow. In my head I know there’s nothing to be done but wait out the journey and hope I’m not too late. Annoyingly loud girls have annoyingly inane conversation. They get off and two city workers get on. And have the same inane conversation. I retreat into my audiobook – City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare. I’d rather spend my time hanging out with Clary and Jase and Simon than listen to their hoohah.

Eventually I get to Parliament, and not late at all. But the Myki won’t touch off. Remember back at Mentone? Yeah, that. Lovely train man releases the gate with a warning to be careful touching on. Bless! Carry suitcase up the stairs, and onto Spring Street, then around the corner of Little Collins to the Sheraton. Up in the lift and into the conference. It’s not even 9am – and I’m pooped.

Luckily, we are here to listen and work with Dylan Wiliam, Formative Assessment guru and, as we discover during the day, a pretty nice guy.

You can see my complete tweet journey over at Storify (embed below) but I thought that I would tease out a few of the a-ha moments I had today.

So…
AH1 – Within the first few minutes I had my first AH regarding Teacher Appraisal…a scoring model doesn’t work, but a FEEDBACK model does work. We’re supposed to be working on a feedback model, but it’s not always used that way.

AH2 – There’s only one 21C skill. Paraphrasing a quote from Papert (1998) – success in the 21C looks like this…knowing how to act and react to a situation that you have NEVER SEEN BEFORE.
That’s from 17 years ago, and we’re still teaching in a 20C way.
How about this one?

“The test of success in education is not the amount of knowledge that a pupil takes away from school, but [his/her] appetite to know and [his/her] capacity to learn. If the school sends out children with the desire for knowledge and some idea how to acquire and use it, it will have done its work.”

This is from Livingstone…in 1941!!!!! That’s 74 years ago, peeps!

AH3 – I already had a handle on this one, but it bears repeating. If you don’t know where you are going, how will you know when you get there? Learning Intentions and Success Criteria are critical for students to know where they are going and what it looks like when they get there.

AH4 – Planning your questions is a necessary part of your lesson planning. It’s not a question of Closed v Open – sometimes Closed questions get useful responses. Questions need to give the teacher feedback on understanding and thinking, not just ‘right’ or ‘wrong’.

That’s enough for today. See you after Day Two.

Day Three – Bendigo Writers Festival

Today was the final day of the Bendigo Writers Festival – and it was another ripper day.

First session, Access All Ages, was Sonya Hartnett in conversation with Christie Nieman. Sonya has sometimes been considered to be ‘prickly’ over the years, but she showed none of that today. She is always entertainingly frank about the craft of writing, treating it as a job and a skilled profession. My favourite quote from her today was a response to a query on how she reads for pleasure and criticism – her reply? 30 years of doing it! Practice, practice, practice. [I created the wrong hashtag for this session and didn’t notice for the whole hour. It’s #accessallareas instead of ‘ages’.]

After that I had 15 mins to get to another venue to see the Memories of Our Place panel. Hosted by Sarah Mayor Cox, the panel comprised of Anne Manne, Bill Garner, and Di Dempsey, who were talking about the impact of place in our memories and histories.

Anne Manne has written a memoir about moving to Bendigo as a result of the violent break-up of her parents’ marriage, and the subsequent freedom for her, and virtual imprisonment of her mother. Bill Garner’s book, Born in a Tent, celebrates the long history of Australian living under canvas, from the convicts who were obliged to live in tents, and the upper-middle class who embraced it as a cheap family holiday, to present day camping style. Di Dempsey is a long-time resident of Bendigo, moving here permanently after spending many family holidays in the Whipstick. Sarah’s own experience of both living in Bendigo and being an enthusiastic camper enlivened and informed this panel, and her recall of  the characters, stories and events in each of the works was remarkable.

The last session I attended for the day, but by no means the last session of the festival, was Talk Right, Write Better: a debate on the need, or not, for grammar in every day life. Ably and amusingly hosted by Jonathan Ridnell from ABC Central Victoria, Nicole Hayes opened the speeches, arguing stridently and hilariously that grammar was absolutely necessary, comparing examples such as “Let’s eat grandpa” v “Let’s eat, Grandpa”. A world of difference in meaning!

David Astle followed Nicole, and convinced us that all grammar rules are merely fashion, citing examples from Latin, ancient champions of the rules, and their downfall, and many current ways of speaking and writing.

Fiona Scott-Norman was equally funny, and held to the notion that grammar rules were necessary but that we should should show sympathy rather than derision for those who don’t understand the rules. Her many hilarious examples of spelling mistakes on tattoos, “I’m awsome”, and “No regets”, had the audience laughing out loud.

Finally, Matt Blackwood spoke about street art and the fluidity of spelling and grammar. He told us about an artwork that involved placing Scrabble letters in sentences. When a number of tiles were stolen from the artwork Matt left it like that, but at some point someone came along with a black marker and wrote the letters on the wall, to correct it.

In the end, the panel decided two things: that meaning was paramount and grammar secondary, and that you had to know the rules to be able to break the rules.

My day was topped off with a late lunch with a terrific bunch of ‘birds’ at The Rifle Hotel, and then a 2.5 hour drive home.

This is a terrific conference, in its third year. Well organised, friendly, and fun. Heaps of choice, some really engaged and engaging guests, and lots of cafes, restaurants and cultural attractions to give your brain breathing space.

I learned a lot at this conference. Perhaps you will next year too.

 

Day Two – Bendigo Writers Festival

Three FABULOUS sessions today.

The first panel was called “Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon”, and consisted of Nicole Hayes (The Whole of My World), Kirsten Krauth (just_a_girl), and Jennifer Valentish (Cherry Bomb) in conversation with Julie Proudfoot (The Neighbour).

This panel had a great feel – it was obvious from the start that the four women had a great rapport, and had read each other’s works and enjoyed them. Julie Proudfoot had some fantastic questions for the panelists, ranging from the amount of autobiographical material they had drawn on, their thoughts on teenage readers, their inspirations for their protagonist’s voice, through to favourite teenage reads (The Catcher in the Rye, Paul Zindel and Judy Blume, and Bret Easton Ellis). Unfortunately I was not in a position to tweet during this session – and it appears that no-one else did either, which is sad because many fine words were said, including a discussion around the ‘positioning’ of both Krauth’s and Valentish’s books as YA, when both were and are intended for an adult audience.

After a quick cuppa back at the motel I headed back down to the Arts Precinct and the LaTrobe Uni Visual Arts Centre to sit in on “Unhappy Marriage”. Wow! I mean, just, Wow!

Mandy Sayer, memoirist, spoke heroically about the story behind her publication, The Poet’s Wife. The poet in question was Sayer’s first husband, a writer himself and a total psychopath. Sayer was honest – heartbreakingly, gaspingly so – and articulated both her ambivalence and immersion in her memories of that time. Jane Sullivan was a wonderful partner for Sayer, drawing out the details of Sayer’s memories and exploring wider ideas of power, madness and writing. This was an emotional session, but ultimately rewarding. I was able to tweet during this session, so you can check out the whole story here.

My final panel of the day was ‘The Other Half’ – Historian Clare Wright in conversation with Charles Fahey. This was a fascinating session, and one in which the guest shone her very brightest. Wright’s knowledge and understanding of the events that led up to the 15 minutes of the Eureka Stockade, and the female inhibitants’ role in it, is encyclopaedic and articulate. She was clearly on top of her subject matter, as well as having a broad overview of the political, economic and social situation that gave birth to the depth of feeling in the mining community that erupted so explosively on that day in Dec 1854.

Wright’s recall of the particulars of every woman she had focused on was enlightening, and she gave them all a new life of sorts, recounting their triumphs and disasters in detail. One of the main points I took away from this session was that The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka is being billed as the ‘female’ history of the rebellion, when in fact it is just the history of Eureka, encompassing both the women and the men that took up arms to fight against what they saw as an oppressive and unequal system. Tweets from this session can be found here.

I rounded the day off by talking with Nicole Hayes and Anna Burkey over a glass of wine and a cup of tea, and then heading to the Indian with Anna, Sarah, Justine and a young man whose name I have, shamefully in my tiredness, forgotten already.

As I write this it appears that Les Murray is waxing lyrical down at the Capital Theatre, and I wish I had gone, but sometimes you’ve just got to stop, sit still, gather your thoughts, and breathe.

Day One – Bendigo Writers Festival

Today was Schools’ Day at BWF.

Fun things about today, in no particular order other than the way they popped into my head:

1. Gabrielle Wang, Sophie Masson and Lyn White in conversation with Sarah Mayor Cox and 300 school kids;

2. Meeting Nicole Hayes FOR REAL! She is my footy chick hero!;

3. Lovely dinner at GPO Bendigo with Nicole and Graham (a work colleague from another life) with an enormously far-reaching conversation about life, the universe and everything;

4. Afternoon snooze when I would have normally been at work;

5. Reading the third Ship Kings book before falling asleep;

6. Electric blankets!;

7. Home-made lunch of salami and char-grilled veggies on supermarket white;

8. Sleep and electric blanket;

9. Blanche D’Alpuget – a VERY interesting person;

10. Electric blanket;

11. Catching up with the gentleman writer, Andrew McGahan;

12. Buying books;

13. Electric blanket.

 

Sad things about today:

1. Sarah and Justine missing out on a lovely dinner at GPO;

2. Rude secondary students;

3. Missing Jackie French in conversation with Sarah Mayor Cox and 300 students because I was sleeping;

4. Using the wrong Twitter address AND hashtag for the first two conference sessions!

 

It’s been a big day, and the Ship Kings are calling to my salty soul.

You can catch my tweets from the morning session of today on this Storify.

 

Day Zero – Bendigo Writers Festival – Pre-conference Dinner

Day Zero happens when you go to the pre-conference dinner (in Bendigo) straight from work (in Mentone) with a side trip to home (Mt Eliza) to pick up your laptop that you left behind in the morning!

After that inauspicious beginning, the only way was up, baby!

A quick freshen-up in the lovely room at Barclay on View, and then I headed off to the Platinum Room at The Foundry. Damn, it is LOVELY to be in a town where you know where everything is!

The evening was scheduled 6pm for 6:30pm, but the clock crept passed the half hour and continued on, with no sign of the speaker, our current Australian Children’s Laureate and “National Treasure”, Jackie French. The audience was polite, but starting to get a bit questioning – you could feel the curiosity in the room. Where was she? What was the hold up?

Finally, Georgie stepped on stage to welcome us and introduce Sarah Mayor Cox, who, in turn, introduced Jackie, a woman who needs no introduction, IMHO. Petite, smiley, chatty…she’s JACKIE FRENCH!

And then…and then.

Jackie decided to explain why she was late. She didn’t have to, but she did choose to. Whilst waiting to be collected to go to the dinner Jackie had heard a woman screaming, and some men laughing, and in her words she “completely over-reacted”. We heard that Jackie was thrown back to the night, the exact same date in fact, when her sister was murdered. Well, you could have heard a pin drop. This was an aspect of Jackie’s life that, I suspect, not many people know. It was a privilege to be trusted to hear that story, on that night, from her.

Jackie French
Jackie French

We heard about how, at age 7, Jackie discovered Socrates, and how he became her guide and friend during a traumatic childhood. About her journey through Europe with her then boyfriend and being involved in the war in Spain. About her travels through outback Australia, and her work with Yes, I Can, and back to her family, the importance of reading, reading, reading, and all around her writing.

And she was MAGNIFICENT!

I am in awe of Jackie French. Articulate, wise, compassionate, passionate, brave, wonderful. What an honour. What an amazing start to this conference!

PS. I was so blown away with Jackie on the night that I forgot that I met Sophie Masson (author) and Lyn White (editor). Squee!

Sophie Masson being very polite about my fangirl carry-on
Sophie Masson being very polite about my fangirl carry-on
The lovely Lyn White - editor and 'creator' of the "Through My Eyes" series
The lovely Lyn White – editor and ‘creator’ of the
“Through My Eyes” series