South Island Children’s Librarians’ Conference 2008, Day Two
By Trevor Agnew
Day 2, Tuesday 18th March 2008:
The Rhythm and Images of Pamela Allen:
“I write and illustrate books for children who cannot read.” Using slides of some of her illustrations, Pamela Allen spoke about her work. “She’s very good at droring,” said her proud mother. Allen was a child in wartime New Zealand, at a time when a piece of paper to draw on was rare. There were few children’s books: Millie Molly Mandy, Peter Rabbit and Winnie the Pooh. After high school, she went to Elam School of Art for a 4 year degree. Married, with four children, she became involved in the play school movement and supported the Birkenhead Play Centre. “Play Centre is very important in New Zealand culture – it shares parenting and enhances parenting for the whole community.”
In the 1970s, with Jan Farr (Gareth’s mother) she created a series of small paperback books for parents to share with their children: Mummy, Do Monsters Clean their Teeth?, Mummy, How Cold is a Witch’s Nose? And Mummy, Are Giants Too Big For Their Boots?. Her illustrations used a single colour. There were only a few New Zealand books around at the time: May’s Lion in the Meadow, Cowley’s Duck in the Gun and Dodd’s My Cat likes to Hide in Boxes.
When the family moved to Australia in 1978, Allen asked Ann Ingram of HarperCollins for work illustrating books. Ingram suggested she write the books as well as illustrate them. Allen walked back across Sydney Harbour Bridge saying to herself, “I’m an author.” She studied Rosie’s Walk and decided that she liked the idea of a picture book where most of the story was told in pictures. “I decided Rosie’s Walk suited me.”
As she produced Mr Archimede’s Bath, she worked out her own rules about good writing. She decided to use only words that conveyed the correct meaning. They might be big words, e.g. responsibility, but they must be correct ones. The book’s first line was, “Can anyone tell me where all that water came from?” This was intended to include the reader in the book, and invited them to “be” the story.
Mr Archimede’s Bath won awards and brought her a letter from a child, “I loved your mystery book Pamela Allen.”
“There’s room in the book for you (the sharer), the child you’re reading it to, and the author. So it’s not Pamela Allen’s book any more. It’s yours. It’s the child’s. I envisage the book read aloud.”
Allen read Simon Said. Then she read Fancy That, and talked about its “voice’. Small children get their information through different conduits to adults. It’s not the language but the tone of the voice, the expressions of the face and so on, that they use. So Pamela Allen can reach little children through the pictures of her book, and also through the voice (more than the language) of her book. She used the example of little red hen in Fancy That and the importance of repetition. “Took, took, took,” is the cry of the little red hen. She read it to applause.
“My prime point was to connect to a small child.” Then Allen talked about Mr McGee and the Biting Flea. She showed her rough sketches, which she calls ‘mapping the book’ rather than a storyboard. She uses a ring-binder with 32 sketch-pad pages. She worked out the story – based on a friend’s child being bitten by a mosquito – with the beach-house, the bites and the flea. “It all started there and developed.” Rhyming words like flea, sea and flee were used. She makes up dummies of each book, photocopies them and sends them to her publisher.
She also showed us how she spaces out words to control the speed of the story. E.g. she uses gaps to slow events down.
Bertie and the Bear is a particularly good book for showing the use of noises, sounds, etc, to convey the message in a story. “Pom. Pom.” The Kansas State Reading Circle wrote in 1984 to Pamela Allen’s editor complaining about Bertie and the Bear. They had ‘detected errors’ on the last three pages and didn’t understand ‘danced after the bear.’ They criticised the use of a colon rather than a semi-colon, and expressed doubts over the use of “Pom. Pom.” The author of the letter, E. Pauline Means, wrote that one meaning of ‘pom pom girl’ is ‘a prostitute.’ Pamela Allen replied, “My little child knows what “Pom. Pom.” means. It’s the end of the book!”
She also received criticism over Mr McGee having a penis in one picture. “An insignificant flick of the pen,” was her comment. Pamela Allen sees Mr McGee as being the same age as the 3 year old reading the book.
Once Upon a Time: telling tales before school:
Liz Weir told us that Rhythm, Rhyme and Repetition are the three Rs of pre-school education. She used her mandolin and some perky songs to explain how to tell stories to children. Her closing instruction: “Keep it simple, seweetie!” Good advice.
Tales for Tamariki: bilingual storytimes:
Aurelia Arona and Rona Fatuleai of Christchurch City Libraries then spoke on their experiences in bilingual storytime, using English, Samoan and Maori examples.
Moving to Learn:
They were followed by Gill Connell, Early Childhood Educator talking about Moving to Learn: making the connection between movement, music, learning and play (from birth to 3 years). It was interesting to see the interflow of ideas between these two sessions. For example 3 year olds can’t do the finger movements for Incie-Wincie Spider but they can do the hand and body movements. We also learned about the value of letting babies have plenty of floor time and movement.
Lost and found in Translation:
After lunch Bill Nagelkerke (a writer who also translates books) introduced Julia Marshall who set up Gecko Press in 2004 to publish good foreign titles for children in English. “What an amazing and brave thing to do,” said Nagelkerke, who used skilful questions to create a lively discussion of translated publications.
Julia Marshall described the origin of Gecko Press as “a happy mixture of coincidences”. She worked in Sweden for twelve years as a journalist on multi-language magazines. Back in New Zealand she worked in publishing with Bridget Williams, before returning to Sweden. There she had the idea of publishing English translations when she found that Can You Whistle, Johanna? by Ulf Stark had been published in twenty-five languages - but not in English.
“That seems odd.”
“Not odd but normal,” said a Swedish publisher.
Julia Marshall did the translation into English herself and Can You Whistle, Johanna? was an early Gecko Press success.
When she went to the Bologna Children’s Book fair, she found that publishers were excited about getting an English language edition of their books. The challenges she faced were those of setting up a new business. She had the benefit of not knowing what she was letting herself in for.
She held up a copy of Donkeys, by Adelheid Dahimène, illustrated by Heide Stöllinger, and translated by Catherine Chidgey – now a popular silver wedding present in New Zealand. The conference audience all said, “Aaaah!” The Austrian publisher of Donkeys said Marshall didn’t have to pay in advance. There was lots of goodwill, but she was also warned that she had little chance of making a profit. Very few books are being translated into English; this is especially so with children’s books.
Julia Marshall gave her rules for the books she chooses to have translated.
1. Look for award-winners, especially children’s choice winners. (But note that some winners are weird.)
2. Ask yourself: “Would I hate it if someone else published this book?”
3. Does it have heart? She likes books that contain feelings.
Of the international publishing scene, Marshall said that the Australians are easing off on picture books, which suits her; she’ll fill the gap. Overseas, they have blockbusters just as here, but they also have their well-written steady sellers. When visiting schools, she always asks children if Gecko books, like Who’s Driving? are New Zealand books and the kids always say ‘No’. She particularly likes Swedish books because they are always written in the voice of the child.
“A bad translation is like looking through a dirty window. With a good translation, you don’t even know the window is there.” – Julia Marshall.
Should the names of characters be changed in translations? Marshall outlined the case for and against. She also discussed the merits of moving from a literal translation to a freer translation which captures the spirit of the story. For example, in translating I am the King, by the Belgian author-illustrator Leo Timmers, Bill Nagelkerke’s choice was between a blue car and a blue limousine. The final choice was limousine “because it is such a lovely word.” In the same author’s Who’s driving?, the Belgian jeep makes a Belgian sound – chuck, while the fire engine’s noise was translated to a New Zealand type sound.
Gecko has published one book by locals: Snake and Lizard, written by Joy Cowley. Julia Marshall raised a good laugh when she asked the audience, “Who illustrated Snake and Lizard?” A loud shout came from a side row, “I did!” Gavin Bishop was in the audience.
Eye Magic: storytelling in another dimension:
The next speaker, Gavin Bishop, used videos to demonstrate the features of 3-D interactive electronic books. He wrote and illustrated the world’s first: The Giant Jimmy Jones in 2003, with Eye Magic. The video showed how the system works, with a computer holding a range of 3-D images. Each page of the book has a marker which triggers the software to release about a minute’s worth of computer animation. All the characters were originally sketched in detail, with all dimensions, etc and then modelled for the computer by One Glass Eye Co. He created colour swatches for the characters’ clothes and other features. These were then scanned and used to cover the skeleton figures. When ‘pasted on’ they looked just like Bishop’s original water-colours.
Now Bishop is working on a second book, an electronic version of his House That Jack Built (Scholastic NZ, 1999). Its full title is THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT: BEING the ACCOUNT of JACK BULL Esq. who SAILED from these SHORES to a LAND FAR AWAY to LIVE there and TRADE with the NATIVES of that said land 12th DAY of SEPTEMBER 1798.
We were given a glimpse of the electronic 3-D version, with specific sounds linked to such features as horse, cat, dog, church bells and whales. In this book, the markers are worked into the pictures as electronic cues. The house and the church can be opened-up and examined inside and out. Again the great surprise for the reader/viewer is seeing the picture rear up and become three-dimensional. The work continues.
Children’s Literature in Film:
Dr Anna Smith of the University of Canterbury, a lecturer on children’s literature, gave an illustrated talk on the relationship between some children’s books and the films made from them. She discussed selecting the book to be filmed, the scriptwriting process, deciding on images, the cutting and editing, as well as the later marketing. All this is the framing of the story.
“What does ideology have to do with children’s film?”
“Nothing is free of ideology, not even the film critic.”
Children’s classics have become commodities in the global economy. Dr Smith compared the BBC version of The Borrowers to the US-made movie version. She also looked at treatments of Tom’s Midnight Garden, by Philippa Pearce, a 1921 Disney Laugh-o-Gram cartoon version of Cinderella. Films like Wind in the Willows and Mrs Doubtfire often seek dual audiences for children’s films, so they can be watched by adults as well as children. Time constraints left many in the audience wanting more; they may have to enrol for a paper in the children’s literature course.
Bob Docherty of the National Library's Christchurch branch, [and a regular book reviewer on National Library's Create readers blog] finished the conference by speaking with passion and enthusiasm about the good books available now for young people. “The best writing in the world is being done for children’s books.”
“Conference ends, and all the librarians live busily ever after.” – Louise Easter
These notes on The South Island Children’s Librarians’ Conference, March 17-18th 2008, held at the Copthorne Hotel, Durham Street, Christchurch, New Zealand, were made by Trevor Agnew.
Please feel free to post corrections or clarifications.
The next South Island Children’s Librarians’ Conference will be held
in Greymouth on the 5-6 March 2009. A real West Coast welcome is promised.