'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Saturday 16 October 2010

The Best of Both Worlds - We Welcome Sheryl Gwyther to KBR!

One of the most remarkable things about being a part of the world of Australian children’s books is that so many others are madly passionate about it as well.

This enthusiasm runs through every area of the industry – from the source, authors and illustrators, through those who work in our thriving Australian children’s publishing industry...

...to book-sellers who specialise in these books...

...to librarians (particularly those fighting for the continued existence of school libraries)...

...to blogging aficionados (like many of my author/illustrator friends, and of course, Tania and Megan on this site)...

...to parents who buy and borrow the books and right through to the end users, the children and young adults who read them.

So when Tania and Megan asked me to be a regular contributor on Kids Book Review, I jumped at the chance. Here was an opportunity to write about things I (and maybe you, too) am passionate about – books, learning, education, children and art. And of course, about writing stories for children.

Before becoming an author, I was an Early Childhood Teacher (teaching a Multi-Age group of 5-9 year olds in a Brisbane school for several years), then an Adult Literacy teacher in TAFE and in Boggo Road Gaol, working with Indigenous prisoners. The common link between these areas is literacy and the development of self-esteem.

It would be perfect if learning to read went hand in hand with the love of reading, but, for many children (and adults) it doesn’t.

For adults, the struggle to make sense of words, sentences, grammar and spelling seems so far removed from the books they might be tempted to read – books that have far too many words to tackle.

If only Wilbur Smith or Bryce Courtenay wrote books suitable for adult literacy students as well! At least, now there are Hi Interest/Low Level books for young adult literacy students – although, not enough out there for adults lacking reading confidence.

How do concerned parents deal with the conundrum created when book reading is a chore rather than a pleasure?

Some ideas... make a habit of reading stories aloud to children (make sure you’re not using a boring voice, and pre-read the book first). Make little story books using the kids’ own words and pictures. Ensure your children (and you) are active public library visitors. Does your child see you reading for enjoyment?

Older kids have a great choice of comic strip fiction and graphic novels. Audio books of the latest popular novels are great too – storytelling without the torment of tackling written words.

When my son, David was eight, he wanted me to read JRR Tolkien’s, The Hobbit to him – a chapter a night was the undertaking. The book was heavy-going as a read-aloud – it’s very wordy – so I jumped paragraphs, slurring words as I drifted off to sleep.

Then I discovered the recorded BBC abridged version of the book – not only did David listen to The Hobbit for many enthralling daylight hours, I joined him. Who cares about housework not done!

For me, those few years of working with kids in schools fuelled the story-telling and reading passion I had from an early age. I’m glad writing and the desire to be a children’s author found me eventually. Now I have the best of both worlds – writing stories plus the opportunity to visit schools to enthuse kids about the fabulous, fun-filled world of books.

Keep reading!

Yours in the love of books,


Have a reading question or need some advice for your child? Ask Sheryl! and you answer will be published on KBR.