An invitation to take part in this year’s Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival in the United Arab Emirates was an opportunity to meet and create art with Arabic children. Sharjah is the cultural capital of the UAE and this event is a stellar showcase for celebrating children’s literature – with over 200,000 visitors! The eleven-day event is held under the directives of His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, the Ruler of Sharjah. His aim is to create a culture of book-loving citizens – what an amazing initiative! @sharjahbookauthority
During the Festival, I ran hands-on workshops, readings, a panel discussion on Heritage in Children’s Literature with the lovely UK author, Swapna Haddow, and Kuwaiti author, Latifa Batti, and a school visit to the Delhi Private School in Dubai – all with the goal of inspiring children and young adults to enjoy reading. Extra bonus: The volunteer for my school visit turned out to be a celebrity – the actor/photographer, Francis Tharakan. Here’s a link to his latest. He’s the Careem (Uber) driver.
The Festival was attended by many award winning international authors and artists from around the world, I was honoured to meet creators from Russia, India, Canada, UK, Pakistan as well as the terrific Australian contingency including my very own Aussie husband Mark. We all had the unique experience of presenting at the festival, staying in the same hotel, sharing rides and meals, sightseeing and shopping and lots and lots of laughs with Sabeena Kanik (India) and Cindy Lane, bonding us for life.
A visit to the heart of Old Sharjah and lucky enough to wander into the Sharjah Heritage Days Festival.
Thank you to all the parents, teachers, librarians and my colleagues, who are passionate about getting children’s books into children’s hands and especially for all the young readers who voted for A is for Australia.
For creators, recognition for our books is a rare gift. Recognition is important. Receiving the Crystal Kite Award and the Hoffman Award are extra, extra special because one is voted by one’s peers and the other by children.
The Crystal Kite Award is a peer-given annual award to recognize books from the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) regional divisions around the world. I share this year’s award for Australia and New Zealand with the extremely talented, Peter Carnavas and his book, Blue Whale Blues.
The Hoffman Award is presented to the highest ranked West Australian author voted by young readers’ organised by WAYRBA (West Australian Young Readers’ Book Award). Young readers were invited to nominate books that they’ve read and enjoyed.
Receiving awards gives creators the inspiration to keep going and the confidence to do what we love. It is a huge honour which I humbly accept with great pride.
Recently, I took a fast plane (rather than a slow boat) to China to present at the Bookworm Literature Festival that took place in three cities: Beijing, Chengdu and Suzhou. Over ten days I mingled with legendary authors, visited local schools, stayed in mind-blowing hotels, and ate Chinese delicacies chosen by pointing at menus with colorful pictures. Sometimes I wasn’t exactly sure what I was eating.
The festival venues were popular hangouts – combination bookstore, cafe and bar…created by Bookworm Festival founder and bookstore owner, Peter Goff, a warm and generous host. Olivia Liu, the Regional Advisor for the newly established Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Beijing chapter, organized my visit. Also representing SCBWI, was co-founder of SCBWI and author Stephen Mooser from the USA and author/illustrator Bridget Strevens-Marzo from the UK. Bridget and I had fun presenting together on panels in Beijing alongside Olivia and again in Chengdu to some highly motivated teacher librarians.
West Australian AJ Betts and I above at the Australian Embassy in Beijing – I’m drinking WATER because I’m about to do a gig! Amanda was on tour with Australian Writer’s Week in China and was also part of the Bookworm Literature Festival.
Visiting schools and conducting workshops – children all love a good story and love to create their own books!
To first view China’s skyline is a shock and awe experience, each building more fantastic then the next. But to put it into perspective, this is the country that built the Great Wall, one of the greatest wonders of the world.
The entire population of Australia fits into Beijing alone, but yet I feel a strange intimate connection. The skyscrapers are being built with the red iron ore mined from the West Australian ground. With all these remarkable buildings springing up all over the country, no wonder it’s easy to spot the Chinese National bird, the (building) crane, they soar in great numbers high in the sky, everywhere. In the 90s, one quarter of the world’s construction cranes were at work in Shanghai alone!!
Experiencing the Great Wall is like riding a meandering a dragon, up and down as far as the eye can see and another 13,000 miles beyond. We took a chairlift up and a toboggan down!
Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, where the unforgettable demonstrations happened back in 1989. Security is still tight. Creepy plain-clothes policeman stand guard over a fire extinguisher in case a protester decides to set themselves alight.
To the Giant Panda Breeding Research Base in Chengdu – I always thought pandas were cute but seeing them in person, they are seriously cuuuuuuute.
The historic city of Suzhou, affectionately known as the Venice of the Orient. We visited several of the UNESCO World Heritage List classical gardens with unique names; The Humble Administrator’s Garden which had the 36 Pairs of Mandarin Duck’s Hall, the With Whom Shall I Sit? Pavilion and the Listening to the Sound of Rain Pavilion. I preferred the quieter Master of the Nets Garden (also called Fisherman’s Garden).
Post Festival, a couple of days to explore where Blade Runner meets Las Vegas. Cool, hip Shanghai, staying on The Bund, to enjoy the skyline of lights.
As I scroll down my Book
Week Month schedule and about to face 27 school visits, I thought I’d share my tried and tested top ten survival tips.
1. Reconfirm dates and times with the library or school beforehand. Organisers have been known to go on long service leave or change position.
2. Prepare a presentation that’s age appropriate – find out in advance what year levels you will be seeing. If it’s the entire school in one presentation, you will need to engage the little ones through to the older students. Prepare accordingly.
3. Confirm equipment needs: i.e. a data projector/interactive whiteboard. Always good to carry an extra VGA cable, HDMI cable, powerboard and batteries for a remote. If technology fails, be prepared to have a Plan B
= you alone and the audience. It’s refreshing!
4. Ask where best to park. Organisers will know parking restrictions or may offer you a prime spot.
5. Sign books or autograph books, but not tiny scraps of paper. Alternatively, ask the teacher to photocopy a sheet with multiple signatures.
6. Teachers will adore you if you leave a ‘hands-on’ activity they can use in the classroom for follow-up after your visit.
7. Ask in advance if the school would like a book order form to purchase books for the students and/or school.
8. Be respectful in your presentation. Don’t go for the shock and awe to amuse the students with words that will upset the teachers. Especially if you want an invitation back or anywhere for that matter. Word travels quickly.
9. Ask for a microphone if you feel your voice is going – even with a small group. Don’t wait til it goes completely.
10. Be prepared to change tack. Have Plan B ready to go and even a Plan C.
Imagine a 16th story library. Fill it with publishers, educators, agents, parents, librarians, authors and illustrators from all over the world. All gathered to celebrate, learn and share knowledge at the most dynamic and fastest growing literary festivals – the Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC).
I was honoured to be one of six selected delegates from West Australia to present at this year’s Festival. There were many wonderful moments…
…being on a panel moderated by children’s book historian, Leonard S. Marcus. If you haven’t seen his landmark exhibition: The ABC of It: Why Children’s Books Matter at The New York Public Library – move it up to #1 on your bucket list as it ends in September.
The panel was shared with Junko Yokota – Director of the Center for Teaching through Children’s Books. Coincidentally, she is a coauthor of four college textbooks that I’ve illustrated: Children’s Books in Children’s Hands. Even though Junko and I have worked together for the past twenty years, we only met in person recently.To round up our panel was Mariko Takagi, an author and book designer extraordinaire.
Another best bit was conducting an all day masterclass alongside the charming Spanish illustrator, Javier Zabala. We hope all attendees went away with new skills and loads of inspiration. I look forward to seeing your illustrative published work in the near future.
I wish to thank writingWA for their support in making this opportunity possible. Thank you to the WA State Government through Department of Culture and the Art for their recognition of important cultural exchanges such as the AFCC. And of course thank you to the National Book Development Council of Singapore for the initiative of bringing Asian content to the world’s children.