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.


How do you quantify this moment?

So, yesterday, I’m standing up in front of a Year 10 class, waxing lyrical as I do, when one of the students chimes in with, “You know that book you gave me last time, Miss? Well, it was really good. I finished it in 3 days.” “That’s great,” I reply. “Have you returned it today?” “Yes, Miss. It’s in the chute thingy.”

So I go and get it out of the chute thingy, and ask the student if he can give the group a run-down of the plot, unless it will be too spoilery. And he thinks it will be too spoilery, so he just says, “It was really, really good, Miss”. The book is a little over 300 pages – it’s Bruiser – and I say out loud that this boy has read 100 pages a day – “So it must be a really good book.”

One of the other boys asks to read it. I admit it, I’m a bit disappointed that he’s got it, because last time this class was in the library, two weeks ago, I had to reprimand him for talking and interrupting other students when the focus is all on reading in a sustained way in preparation for VCE. At the end of the lesson he was the last to leave, so we had a bit of a chat about his focus, and what he wants to do with his life, and he’s pretty honest. He has no idea. And I agree that focus is hard when you don’t know where you want to go. And that’s that.

So we settled down to reading, and this week the class is on fire. They are reading their heads off. It’s all quiet, and everyone is giving their books a chance to speak to them. The 45 mins passes really quickly (I’m reading Alex as Well – must read!) and it’s time to borrow.

I suggest that the students need to borrow their books as we have had a few books get snitched out from under noses because the kids won’t borrow them (!) and then I notice that Bruiser boy is walking towards the exit with the book. I ask him, “Are you going to borrow that?” And I hope my surprise isn’t showing on my face when he replies, “You know what, Miss. I think I will borrow it. I’m really enjoying it.” I act really cool, and just say, “Great”, but inside I am doing a happy dance and my heart is singing, because a boy who has resisted and avoided and downright refused to read for the last three years is BORROWING A BOOK!

And this is my question – how in the hell do I quantify this? It has taken three years, with new suggestions of great books given every week, for this young man to borrow one book. His English teachers and I have despaired of this moment ever happening. It sounds small, and in some respects that’s true. But really it’s a triumph. It’s a win. It’s a bloody miracle.

And I’ve worked really hard to provide great books, to work with the teachers and kids, to read widely and enthusiastically, but how do you quantify this when you are trying to show Senior Management that what you do all day, every day, is important. I can’t test it, or examine it. I can’t count it or test it.

But this moment is an A+ moment. And there is no way to measure it other than to share it as a story.


I’ve been quiet here of late. So damn busy!

But today I’ve come across a curious, confusing and confounding problem – why are eBooks that were previously available from our US supplier now not available to Australian customers? WHY?!

Here’s the whole story as I see it:

We use Destiny Library Manager from Follett. It’s a US company that makes various database management systems, including student and learning management. They know their stuff.

Which is why I am TOTAL IN LOVE with their online purchasing system, called TitleWave. TitleWave has thousands and thousands of great resources, in heaps of great formats – eBooks, audio, visual, and hard copy. It’s so easy to search, order, pay and upload. And the great thing about it is – we own the books.

Now here’s the problem as I see it. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, but it looks pretty clear to me.

It seems that “someone” found out about this easy-to-use system and has shut it down. Rather than lifting prices for Australian purchasers, or making the titles available elsewhere (on publisher websites, for example) so that I can upload them into my catalogue, or renegotiating contracts with the US, they just shut. it. down.

I’m not trying to do the creators out of their dough. They get paid little enough already. I’m happy to pay Australian prices for eBooks that SEAMLESSLY upload to my catalogue software. Overdrive ain’t seamless. Wheelers ain’t seamless. They are proprietary rental systems. I don’t need another place for my students to have to look for resources. Getting them to look at the catalogue is hard enough!

The Destiny/ TitleWave system of buying, downloading and USING eBooks is the best ANYWHERE. No extra modules. No format changes. Licences for single- or multiple-use built in to the cost. Easy for users to access and read. Isn’t that the point?

Why not jump on board, Australian publishers? Get with the program. Because I’m not swapping to Overdrive or Wheelers when I have a BUILT-IN, ownership system already in my catalogue. (Not to mention that, heaven forbid, if my library budget gets cut, then our students no longer can access the eBook ‘rentals’ from these companies).

You’ve been more than happy to let libraries buy books and lend them to people until they fell apart for years and years. And do you know what? You didn’t lose a cent. Because when a paper book falls apart from use you know what a library does? They buy a REPLACEMENT! And you know what happens when eBooks don’t get read, you buy another one!

So, my suggestion is. Get talking to Destiny. There are a lot of users of this catalogue software in Australia, and the excellent ordering and uploading of electronic resources is a great selling point. Why not get your product into more schools, rather than less?

Yours in crankiness,

Karen Bonanno's great Slideshare on Library Advocacy

WA Premier's Literary Awards

Well, it’s funny how the world turns.

Last week, through ‘channels’, the opportunity to become a judge for the WA Premier’s Awards – YA and Children’s books – came up.

Just the day before, I had been saying to colleagues and family alike that I was looking forward to 2011 being the year that I would ‘read books for me’. Having been involved in the Aurealis Awards for the past two years, and the CBCA awards for two years before that, I’ve been reading books for awards for the last four and a bit years. I thought I’d had enough.

But – apparently not. After I got wind of the opportunity, I came home and put it to my husband, reminding him of what I had been saying about having some time off from judging. His response? “That’s fantastic! You’ve got to take it!” Which sort of made it a given, as I really didn’t want to pass up this chance to get involved in a whole new arena where books for ‘kids’ are appreciated. (If you’re interested, here is a blog and discussion about someone very famous [who should propbably know better], Martin Amis, disparaging those who write for young people on the BBC program Faulks on Fiction).

Bottom line – I’m rapt to be involved in the world of books written for young people. I think that children’s writers have to work so hard to get the voice of the character right. Working with children on a daily basis does give you a good ear for an authentic voice, and the young readers can pick a ‘wrong’ voice a mile off.

So, here’s to happy reading for all, whether old or young, tall or small. 🙂

Five on a Treasure Island – Blyton – review

Five on a Treasure Island (The Famous Five, Book 1)Five on a Treasure Island by Enid Blyton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This review will have to do for all the Famous Five books, because, well really, it’s just the same story over and over again.
But that ‘sameness’ is the very reason I come back to the Famous Five even now. There’s something very satisfying about knowing that the Five will triumph, despite all the set-backs, baddies and dire (unlikely) occurences. End Blyton was a queen of the ‘safe’ book – predictable in a very British sort of way, but with four capable, clever and courageous protagonists, who had their foibles, but were, in the end, the victors.
I wanted to be George so much! Anne was too prissy for me, Julian too grown-up, Dick was OK, but George and Timmy were fearless, head-strong and in deep, deep doggy love with each other. And I loved her for it.
If you haven’t read then for a while, or ever, read them for a time gone by, read them for the language of a time and place that no longer exists, and read them for the fun.

View all my reviews >>