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

Monday 15 October 2012

Exclusive! Interview with Belle Alderman, Lu Rees Archives

KBR is delighted to welcome Belle Alderman, Emeritus Professor of Children's Literature and Director of the Lu Rees Archives of Australian Children's Literature at the University of Canberra. One of the most dedicated and active behind-the-scenes people in our thriving industry, Belle joins us with this exclusive interview, to talk about Lu Rees and also about Canberra's Festival of Australian Children’s Literature, now in its second year. The festival runs from 1 October to 14 November 2013.

How did this glorious Festival come about?
I organised annual seminars on children's literature in Canberra throughout the 1980s and thoroughly enjoyed these. Our audiences were huge then and I thought why not try a new format, working with partners right across Canberra, capturing difference audiences. I also wanted to promote the Lu Rees Archives of Australian Children's Literature and showcase its many treasures.

Who was instrumental in its creation?
I put together the Festival grants, but worked closely with Libraries ACT, the National Library, ACT Writers Centre and the ACT Branch of the Children's Book Council. Everyone has great ideas. Working together, we can design enticing events for all ages and interests, and reach a very wide audience. Last year's Boundless Festival, for example, attracted over 1,200 people.

Why was the festival initiated?
There's not enough celebration of Australian children's literature. It's definitely world class and deserves to be talked about, promoted and supported. Just look at our translations - over 50 different languages! Think of all those international awards our books win! Hurrah for Australian children's authors, illustrators, book designers, editors, publishers, booksellers, teachers, teach librarians, anyone connected with children's books ... .

The festival is aligned with the local ACT branch of the Children’s Book Council of Australia, and the Lu Rees Archives. Tell us a little about the Archives.
Until late last year, the Archives was part of the ACT Branch, but after discussion between the Branch and the Archives, we agreed that the Archives should be independent so it could pursue its visionary future as a national collection of Australian children's literature. We became an incorporated body in the ACT in November 2012.

It was way back in 1980 that you first suggested the Lu Rees Archives be housed at the University of Canberra. Tell us about your early work with the Archives and how much they have grown.
Lu Rees, then President of the ACT Branch of the Children's Book Council, began the collection in 1974 and by 1979 it outgrew her home. That's when the Branch looked around for a new home where it could be accessible and its growth supported.

Lu argued that such a national collection was needed and drove the early years until her death in 1983. She then pointed at me and said, 'Keep going with the Archives!' Happily, the collection has found a home where the vision of a national collection has flourished. Check out our 26,000 books in 50 languages, or our artworks, authors' papers and manuscripts and much more at www.canberra.edu.au/lu-rees

Can anyone visit the Archives?
Yes, certainly! Anyone, anywhere in the world can access the online catalogue at the University of Canberra. We enjoy showing people around the Archives and welcome visitors. Do let us know you are coming though, as the Archives is only staffed part time. Contact us at lu.reesATcanberra.edu.au.

Tell us about your fabulous author line-up for Showcase festival this year.
We're celebrating the Canberra Centenary. Isn't everyone? There has been the opportunity to meet Canberra's creators, including ones who have once lived here. Garth Nix and Morris Gleitzman, for example, graduated from the University of Canberra.

Jackie French and Nina Rycroft talked about their new picture book, Dinosaurs Love Cheese. Nick Bland, the creator of The Cranky Bear and other much-loved picture books and apps, will appear on a panel (14 November) with Vanessa Little, Director, Libraries ACT and Dyan Blacklock, Publisher at Omnibus Books. This panel will be moderated by Mark Macleod, himself an author, reviewer, former children's publisher, now teaching children's literature at Charles Sturt University.

Very special children's book creators will appear right around Canberra including KBR's Tania McCartney (of course!), Emma Allen, Susan Hall, David Murphy, Gina Newton, Nina Poulos, Stephanie Owen Reeder and Cheryl Westenberg (24 October and 3 November).

Tell us about the Showcase events.
Garth and Morris appeared in our sold-out opening event on 2 October, 'Writers and Readers Talk', with two young adults in a panel session. Just before the panel, there was an hour to mix and mingle with many of Canberra's creators. Garth and Morris also appeared at the public libraries and ran writers' workshops.

Jackie French and Nina Rycroft's new picture book, Dinosaurs Love Cheese, features in a month-long exhibition of original artwork, manuscripts, and activity material designed for children (at Civic Library until 30 October). Jackie and Nina talked about their collaboration on their first picture book together.

Other events have included book chats about picture books, launches and parties for new books, and plenty of other celebrations of Australian children's literature. Our finale on 14 November is a panel arguing about picture books as apps - should picture books only exist as apps?

Do you have plans to extend the Festival to other states?
There are already festivals of various kinds in other states. Let's concentrate on Canberra where there are many who are fascinated by the wealth of children's literature. Why not bring people to Canberra for our Festival?

What do you hope the festival offers its participants?
I hope they'll enjoy experiencing the incredible talent of children's book authors and illustrators. I also hope they'll enjoy discovering new creators and sharing these with others.

Where can they find out more?
Our website has all the details -- speakers' profiles and portraits including a bit about their work, plus a description of each event and how to book. You'll find everything about Showcase, including a complete program, which you can download and put on your fridge, at www.canberra.edu.au/showcase.