Life Bytes, edited by Alwyn Evans

A girl lost in the outback, a group of boys raising a pair of undies on the school flagpole, an Italian youth migrating to Australia – subjects as diverse as the young writers who chose them. What binds these stories however, is their quality and the fact that they were written for entry into the annual Tim Winton Young Writers Competition.

Following the success of the first compilation of prize-winning stories from the contest, Destination Unknown (2001), Life Bytes brings together 13 first class stories. At times it is hard to remember the stories were written by primary aged children – with both the subject matter and the writing style often showing a maturity unexpected in pre-teens.

The Tim Winton Award, sponsored annually by the City of Subiaco, offers children across the Perth metropolitan area the chance to develop and demonstrate their creative writing abilitites. Life Bytes, showcasing some of the best entries submitted in the award’s ten-year history, is a great read, especially for those who work with young people.

Editor Alwyn Evans is a contest judge and editor and author of children’s books.

Life Bytes, edited by Alwyn Evans,
Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 2002

The Zoo Room, by Louise Schofield

Max and Kelly have a strange Aunt who works at the zoo. When Aunt Zelda is around, wierd and wonderful things happen. So when Aunt Zelda invites the family to the Zoo Room to celebrate Max’s birthday, no one knows what to expect.

At the Zoo Room, there are strange things afoot. The waiter is a bear, the fellow diners are birds and beasts, and there is no sign of Aunt Zelda. Choosing from a menu of fried bugs and beast of the day proves a little challenging. The restaurant is a thrilling combination of excitement and danger. When the meal is over, the children are not sure they really want to go home.

The Zoo Room is a fun story with fantasy and frivolity blended in a way to appeal to five to eight year olds. The illustrations of Malcolm Geste capture both the fun and the mystery of the tale. Kids will love searching for the elusive Aunt Zelda, who can be found peeking at her nephew’s adventure. A fun read.

The Zoo Room, by Louise Schofield, illustrated by Malcolm Geste
Sandcastle Books, Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 2002

The Bravest Penguin of All, by Rina A. Foti

It is the day of the Great Penguin Swim Race, and all the penguins are very excited, especially Little Blue Penguin. She is determined to win.

When the other penguins hear this,they laugh. No-one so small has ever won the race.But Little Blue Penguin is not deterred, telling herself over and over that she can do it.

When the race begins, the bigger penguins splash and splatter Little Blue Penguin and tell her to get out of the way, but still she keeps going. She can hear the cheering of the crowd, driving her on.

When the cheering stops, Little Blue Penguin senses something is wrong. A Killer Whale is lurking nearby and all the racers are in danger. Is Little Blue Penguin too small to save her friends?

The Bravest Penguin of All is a delightful story which will charm youngsters (and their parents) with its gentle message. Beautifully complemented by the illustrations of Cathy Abadie, in the blues and greens of the Antarctic environment, and supplemented by a page of penguin and Antarctic facts, The Bravest Penguin of All will appeal to 4 to 8 year olds and is also suitable for classroom collections.

The Bravest Penguin of All, by Rina A. Foti, illustrated by Cathy Abadie
Koala Books, 2002

The Singer of All Songs, by Kate Constable

The wall of ice that surrounds Antaris is impenetrable. No one can get in or out of the land without the powerful chantments of the priestesses who live within the wall. So, when Calwyn finds an unconcious stranger lying inside the great wall, she can’t believe her eyes. Somehow this stranger has achieved the impossible.

Calywn decides to help the man, and is drawn into the biggest adventure of her life – a quest which may impact not only on her own future, but on that of the whole of Tremaris.

With Darrow (the injured man) she meets and journeys with Tonno and Xanni, fisherman brothers, Mica, who can call the wind, Halasaa, who can talk to the beasts without words, and young Trout. Together the group hopes to defeat the evil sorcerer Samis, who seeks to master all Nine mystical powers of Chantment and so be the Singer of All Songs, and ruler of Tremaris.

This refreshing fantasy is a gripping read, with appeal to both female and male readers, from teen to adult.

Kate Constable has previously had stories published in various literary magazines. This is her first novel.

Outstanding.

The Singer of All Songs
, by Kate Constable
Allen & Unwin, 2002

The Writer's Guide, by Irina Dunn

If you have ever dreamed of writing – of being able to call yourself a writer – then The Writer’s Guide is a good starting point.

Having been the Executive Director of the NSW Writer’s Centre for ten years, Irina Dunn is well aware of the kinds of problems and decisions likely to confront an aspiring writer. From what to write, to how to get it published, from basic equipment to self-promotion, Dunn provides detailed, sensible advice, backed by a comprehensive listing of useful resources.

Aimed at those who wish to write either for pleasure or as a source of income, Dunn’s counsel is frank. She explores the realities of the publishing industry in Australia and New Zealand, providing insight into the prospective highs and lows for a novice writer. For those with little expereince of the industry, this inside look is valuable.

Included in the book are over a hundred pages of resource listings. There are lists of reputable literary agents and manuscript assessors, poetry and children’s book publishers, literary festivals and internet resources. Some of these will be of immediate use to a new writer – others will be great for future reference.

The Writer’s Guide provides what its title suggests – a guide for writers to understand the intricacies of the writing life. An excellent resource.

The Writer’s Guide
, by Irina Dunn
Allen & Unwin, 2002

A Charm of Powerful Trouble, by Joanne Horniman

Lizzie and Laura grow up in a house that oozes secrets from every brick, every crevice. Yet it is a life full of wonders. Surrounded by nature and by human nature the girls learn to live and to love as they follow the path toward adulthood.

Both girls look for answers in the secrets of their mother’s past. Self-possessed, she seems to be unaffected by the events of her life, yet will not speak of her past. When they beg for stories she will tell them only one – the tale of her mystical visit to her great-aunt when she was sixteen. Yet, given time, the girls will learn to understand and to learn from their mother.

This is a story about love and intimacy in many different forms – about friendship, family and lovers. Threads overlap and intertwine with a richness that binds them into a delight of sensual emotion. Most female readers will find hints of themselves in one or other of the three generations of female characters.

A Charm of Powerful Trouble is Joanne Horniman’s first novel for adults. She has previously written for children and teenagers, a fact echoed in her empathy for the teens in this book.

A powerful read.

A Charm of Powerful Trouble, by Joanne Horniman
Allen & Unwin, 2002

Reading Stories, by Mellor,O'Neill and Patterson

Finding text books for the upper school English classroom is not an easy task – few offer a complete course of study which can be followed progressively to build an understanding of a text area. Reading Stories is one in a line of texts from Chalkface press which fills such a need.

The book provides an anthology of short stories suitable for mid and upper level high school and into college or university study. The questions and exercises which accompany the stories endeavor to build an understanding of the ways texts are written to invite the construction of meaning.

The stories offered include “The Good Corn”, by H. E. Bates, Ray Bradbury’s “The Whole Town’s Sleeping” and “A Jury of Her Peers”, by Susan Glaspell. With two stories studied in each of five chapters, students are exposed to a range of styles and structures.

The text attempts to guide students to an awareness of the ways expectations can influence the reading of a story, how and why these readings can differ from a writer’s intentions, how cultural and social assumptions can affect the reading and writing of stories, and more.

Reading Stories, by Bronwyn Mellor, Marnie O’Neill and Annette Patterson
Chalkface Press

Investigating Texts, by Bronwyn Mellor and Annette Patterson

Chalkface Press has a reputation of publishing quality texts for the Literature Studies classroom. Investigating Texts by Bronwyn Mellor and Annette Patterson upholds this reputation.

The book’s premise is that readers read in different ways on different occasions and therefore the text itself can be produced as a different ‘object’ on different occasions.

To help students understand this premise, the book presents concepts in a cumulative way – with each of the four chapters building on the concepts explored in the preceding chapters.

Each chapter includes a range of short stories and other texts with exercises and commentary. Activities allow for individual, class and group explorations of the text at hand, while the commentaries consolidate the concepts explored.

The selection of short stories is outstanding – from traditional folk tales to modern short shorts – and sure to appeal both to teachers and students.

Investigating Texts is suitable for thirteen to eighteen year old students.

Investigating Texts, by Bronwyn Mellor and Annette Patterson
Chalface Press, 1996.

Feeling Sorry for Celia, by Jaclyn Moriarty

Elizabeth Clarry is not a real teenager. She has a Teletubbies quilt cover and doesn’t own any makeup. Worse still, she has never been drunk, and her best friend has totally vanished. The best thing for her to do would be to climb into the refrigerator and disappear.

But Elizabeth doesn’t disappear. Instead, the reader of Feeling Sorry for Celia follows her path through the struggles of finding and losing her best friend, developing new friendships and figuring out her father.

Elizabeth and her friends Celia and Christina encounter many of the problems of adolescence – first love, sex, conformity and family dynamics. Author Jaclyn Moriarty manages to balance the seriousness of these subjects with just the right measure of humour and whimsy to make the book both entertaining and educational.

Feeling Sorry for Celia
is certain to appeal to 13 to 16 year olds and is as suitable for class reading lists as it is for private reading/. The only drawback for class study purposes is that its innovative letter format would be a little difficult for oral reading sessions.

This format, however, is part of the appeal of the book, with the story told through letters, notes and postcards exchanged between Elizabeth and the other characters, with delightful epistles from such fictitious sources as the Manager of the Society for people Who are Definitely Going to Fail High School.

Feeling Sorry For Celia is truly an outstanding piece of adolescent fiction.

Feeling Sorry for Celia by Jaclyn Moriarty
Pan Macmillan, 2000

Studying Literature, by Brian Moon

There are numerous English text books on the market – especially if you want basic comprehension, grammar or spelling activities. There is, however, a lack of textbooks for upper school literature studies. Fortunately, Australian publisher Chalkface Press has redressed this need. Studying Literature, by Brian Moon, is just one of their excellent literature texts.

Studying Literature
would make an excellent introductory course for literature studies students. It combines a superb range of literary texts with thought provoking activities and considered explanation.

The book is divided into three units. In the first, What Is Literature? , students are guided through readings and exercises looking at definitions of literature. The objective of this part of the book is to help students reach an understanding that ‘literature; is a subjective term – literature, Moon concludes, “is about writing, reading and making judgements according to certain beliefs and practices” (p 27).

The second unit, Reading ‘Literary’ Texts looks at the ways that readers construct meanings from text and how dominant values and beliefs can effect the reading of a text. Moon guides students towards an understanding that, rather than existing in the text, meaning is constructed through the reading of a text.

The third and final unit, Reading in Terms of Gender, examines literary texts from women’s perspective. The unit examines how women are portrayed in selected examples and guides women towards an understanding of the role literature has played in reinforcing stereotypes. The unit concludes by discussing other groups which are stereotyped in literary texts and examining examples of writing in which feminist writers attempt to challenge dominant readings of gender.

Moon’s choice of stories and poems in Studying Literature provides an excellent complement to the understanding he endeavors to guide students towards. This is an outstanding resource for students and teachers of literature.

Studying Literature, by Brian Moon
Chalkface Press 1990. Available internationally. For a full list of suppliers, please see www.chalkface.net.au.