I am holding "The Christopher Robin Storybook +' by AA Milne and EH Shepard that my mother read to me when I was very young. Looking at it now, I realise that she bought the 1963 edition in Penang, Malaysia, where I was born. The paper dust jacket is torn, covered in plastic and taped onto the rough, red hardcover in her librarian's attempt to protect it. There is a story about my mother here in itself, and I feel tears burning the back of my eyes.
Flipping through the pages I am transported to the bedroom of my childhood back in Western Sydney, with bunk beds for us three girls squashed into the small room of our fibro house. My mother is sitting beside my bed and reading to me. It's the poems that mesmerize and roll around in my head - about bears and squares and Alice at Buckingham Palace. I remember how this felt like a link to another world, and also a link to my mother's London childhood. A childhood, I know, that was interrupted by war and evacuation from her home to live with strangers in the country. I wonder if she found comfort in these stories then? (It was first published in 1929 - so quite likely.)
This past Christmas I am given a small, gold cloud necklace and my first thought is "tut-tut, it looks like rain' and Winnie the Pooh pretending to be a cloud to trick the bees, in the first story of the book.
Earlier today, walking across glossy floor tiles in a glitzy shopping mall, I catch myself daring the bears to 'look how I'm walking in all of the squares.'
The powerful effect of reading to a child stays with them forever. Not just in terms of literacy and learning, but of these intangibles, these emotional bonds, and connections across time and space. Of shared language and experience. This is why I am a supporter of International Read To Me Day - will you join me?
There's nothing like a book launch to showcase and celebrate vital elements in the children's literature industry, and the launch I attended recently was no exception - Helen Chebatte's debut YA novel 'Bro'. I had the privilege of meeting Helen (author and actor) at another book launch at the end of last year (Rich and Rare). We exchanged facebook details and she invited me to her launch at Ariel Booksellers, Paddington.
Helen had initially given the first four chapters of 'Bro' to her writer's group (which she formed), asking them "Is it interesting enough? Should I keep going with this?" Having been given the green light from her peers, her manuscript (or a "very, very, very rough draft" of it) went on to win the CBCA Frustrated Writer's Mentorship in 2011. Helen sees this as a significant turning point for her manuscript. It was great to see the judges of this mentorship and Helen's writer's group at the launch supporting her.
The manuscript eventually found its way (via an agent) to Hilary Rogers at Hardie Grant Egmont, who introduced the book to those at the launch by saying that she knew she had to publish it when she found tears streaming down her face whilst reading it. Helen was also supported by fellow author Andrew Daddo who launched her book, and spoke about the importance of diverse voices: Helen is from a Western Sydney/Syrian background, her protagonist in 'Bro' is a Lebanese Australian.
Ariel Booksellers hosted a wonderful evening, with all of the 100 or so copies of 'Bro' selling out on the night! What an author"s dream!
So thank you to writer's groups, the CBCA, agents, publishers, fellow authors and booksellers for playing a vital role in bringing the best out of authors, encouraging them in their writing, producing wonderful and important books, and getting them into the hands of readers!
And congratulations to Helen for a great read!
Helen also has an award-winning picture book manuscript that is yet to be published - I certainly hope to see it in print soon.
See my review of 'Bro' here.
See Helen's website here.