The author Dav Pilkey is passionate about promoting reading and writing and we have a Captain Underpants prize pack to give away to a lucky library member, including:
2 movie passes to see ‘Captain Underpants: the First Epic Movie’ at any Christchurch Hoyts cinema, and a Captain Underpants activity book pack. Thanks to Hoyts Northlands for supplying the movie passes!
All you need to is make up your own creative title for a pretend Captain Underpants book and complete the entry form.
At school in England in the early 1980s I was given the opportunity to join an afterschool computer club. The only problem was that, being the early 1980s, our school didn’t actually have a computer. We had to write our programs in thick, dark pencil on stacks of cards that were taken away to a mysterious place, which we never got to see, where they would be fed into a computer.
Our teacher would bring the output to class the following week (or the week after that if there had been a glitch, or someone else needed the computer that week) and we would pore over the results with eager anticipation. Usually we quickly realised that we had made a fundamental error, and set about re-writing our program before waiting another week (or two) to see how things turned out. It was a glacially slow process, but an almost magical one. I don’t think I ever knew where this semi-mythical computer was, or what it looked like, but I imagined a strange colossal machine the size of a small house, similar to those depicted in Cold War science fiction films such as War Games, which were popular at the time.
Obviously, things are very different now. We are living in the age of the so-called digital native (although this may be a myth), but arguably because computers are so advanced now, we actually have fewer opportunities to tinker under the hood than we did in the early days of home computing. Early computers often required their users to manually input programs (written in languages like BASIC) before you could run them. You could buy magazines full of code for various simple games that you could type into your computer and then run. You could even change the code to alter the parameters of the game. This meant that we learned much more about how computers worked, and how to get them to do what we wanted, than is usually the case these days.
Modern computers are much less amenable to this sort of tinkering. Messing about with the code on your computer is likely to lead to a catastrophic system failure, so although computers are now embedded in almost every aspect of our lives, we often have very little idea about what makes them tick.
The ubiquity of computers in society, coupled with the general ignorance of most people as to how they work, has been recognised as a serious problem. Recently, there has been a strong push among educators to get kids coding. Code clubs have sprung up all over the place, digital technology is set to become part of the New Zealand curriculum, and lots of books have been published aimed at getting kids coding, with varying degrees of success.
Recently, my 9-year-old daughter and I read a series of three graphic novels called Secret Coders, which aim to teach coding through the medium of storytelling. These books centre around Hopper, a young girl who finds herself at a strange new school. Along with two new friends, Josh and Eni (many of the names in the book reference famous computers or computer scientists, such as Grace Hopper and ENIAC), Hopper falls into a series of adventures that require the gang to solve various puzzles to figure out what’s really going on at the school.
Many of these puzzles require them to program turtle-like robots to perform particular tasks. The puzzles get increasingly complex. As the reader is encouraged to solve these puzzles for themselves before reading on, almost without realising it, by the end of the first book we were writing programs in a computer language called Logo. There are also some owls living in the school who have a very unusual way of communicating in binary, which adds to the air of mystery. The story is genuinely captivating, and kept us turning the pages. The graphics are engaging, the characters are delightful, and the puzzles are intriguing.
At the end of each book there is a link to a website where you can download a version of the Logo programming language and use it to write your own programs to create computer graphics. We tried it, and within minutes we were making snowflakes and other images using what we had learned from the books. A world of warning though – computer code is very unforgiving and one small typing error can give unexpected results, or even stop a program from working at all, which can be frustrating for young children; nevertheless, the necessary concepts were well within the grasp of my 9-year-old daughter. There’s also a nice website with extra activities, and you can even download a file for 3D printing your own replica of one of the robots from the book.
We had a lot of fun with these books, and I think we learned a lot too. Each volume follows directly on from the previous one, in a continuous narrative, usually beginning with the answer to a puzzle that was set at the end of the last book. We’ve read the first three books, and it seems that there will be more in the series. There are still lots of loose threads to tie up in the story, and there is clearly a lot more to learn about coding. We’ve looked at a few other coding books aimed at kids, but these were the ones that captured our imaginations the most, and it’s not just about learning a particular programming language, but understanding computational thinking – how to break a problem down into its smallest discrete units, each of which can be translated into a simple instruction to a computer, which is a skill that is likely to be applicable to other areas of modern life.
We’re really looking forward to reading the rest of the series. This feel like the start of what could be a long journey to understanding more and more about computers and coding. We intend to keep learning about this stuff, and if we find other useful library resources along the way we will tell you about them in future posts on this blog.
For younger children, My First Coding Book makes a wonderful introduction to computational thinking, with ingeniously creative use of flaps, pull-out tabs, and other devices that kids will be familiar with, to illustrate coding concepts with various games and puzzles…
Pop! Bang! That’s what happened – literally – when a group of New Zealand children’s authors and illustrators presented inspiring talks to hundreds of Canterbury school children, just ahead of the announcement of the 2017 winners of the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults.
Several of the nominated authors and illustrators toured the country speaking to school children about their work and craft. Hosted in conjunction with WORD Christchurch, they addressed primary and intermediate students who came from across Canterbury to hear them speak at St. Margaret’s College. They talked about what it takes to be a writer and/or illustrator and what keeps them inspired and shared their working processes, all with the aim of sparking readers and the next generation of writers and illustrators. We share some of the highlights here.
Session One: Tania Roxborogh, Leonie Agnew and David Elliot
“Any change for good is powered by fury and passion to make the world a better place” says Tania Roxborogh, and this idea is a driving force behind the story in her book about the Bastion Point occupation for Scholastic’s My New Zealand Story series, told from a child’s point of view.
Through the process of researching and writing this book, Roxborogh was reminded that: “Retelling history is never straightforward” because “people lie, self-edit, and mis-remember” and that “people remember different things.” She added that there is also the problem of bias in New Zealand media – from the right wing as well as the left wing – which she had to take into consideration when researching for this book.
When Roxborogh visited Bastion Point to help her find her point of view for the story, she found herself humbled, prompting her to ask: “What right do I even have to tell this story?” She realised, however, that regardless of who she was, the story of the protesters was a story worth telling.
Roxborogh teaches English and Drama at a Canterbury high school and has written over 50 books.
Snark – Being a true history of the expedition that discovered the Snark and the Jabberwock … and its tragic aftermath.
Elliot’s illustrated book was inspired by Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark, and the Jabberwock and his presentation of museum-like artefacts and the stories he told about them would have had some in the audience wondering if his tale of the mission to discover the snark was true or not.
Elliot says he spent time living in a cottage inside Edinburgh Zoo and you have to wonder if this influenced his work illustrating weird and wonderous creatures.
For The Impossible Boy, Agnew asked: “What if a kid believes in something so much that his faith in it makes it real?” like Peter Pan’s belief in fairies, and on the flipside, “if you were an imaginary friend, what if you discovered you weren’t real?”
Agnew recommended using a little bit of non-fiction to make your fiction more real. In this case, she used the war-torn streets of Beirut in Lebanon as the inspiration for her setting of the story.
Various authors at the event talked about the hard parts of writing, when you feel like quitting or at least taking a break. Writing can take time! Agnew wrote 100 drafts of her book over 6 to 8 years. She says if you’re stuck, consider what Einstein said: You don’t solve a problem by looking at it in the same way, try looking at things from a new angle.
Agnew fits writing into her job as a primary school teacher by getting up at 5:30am to write before the school day starts. What inspired her to become a writer? Agnew “grew up in a house full of books” and her dad was a journalist who writes non-fiction, but really, she says, she “just wanted to do it.”
In the first session with Tania Roxborogh, Leonie Agnew and David Elliot I felt an overall theme of the elusive – of capturing the elusive writing spark, capturing the Snark, and elusive invisible friends. Another theme that came through for me was the theme of imagination: imagine if someone was trying to take your land, imagine wondrous creatures and lands, imagine how an imaginary friend would feel if they discovered they weren’t real. Imagine.
Session Two: Des Hunt, Jenny Cooper and Simon Pollard
Des Hunt has a love of adventure stories, science, New Zealand animals and he combines all of these into his stories. Sunken Forest was inspired by a real life summer camp he went on when he was 15 at Lake Waikaremoana, a trip that was memorable partly for sparking his interest in geology. The lake was formed during an earthquake landslide that drowned the forest. Standing tree trunks eerily remain there underwater today. Also trapped there are eels which can’t make their way back to sea to migrate to the Pacific islands to lay eggs. Unable to leave, they grow exponentially large.
In Sunken Forest, one such eel befriends Matt, who is sent to boot camp after his father, a boy racer, is sentenced to prison. At camp, Matt has to deal with bullies and getting the blame for things he didn’t do.
In his talk, Des Hunt totally engaged his audience from beginning to end, by which time he had them on the edge of their seats. He cleverly demonstrated the idea of building tension in a story by blowing up a balloon… about to burst at any moment. How do you really build tension in a story? He says: Add conflict and injustice, a disaster and… Pop!… an explosive climax.
While many of those who spoke at the event started writing or drawing as early as their primary school years, surprisingly Des only published his first fiction book when he was about 50 years old but has since written heaps of books. His passion for writing is now so strong that he can’t imagine doing anything else and he hopes to be an author until he dies. This is good news for my young son who was so inspired by Des Hunt’s presentation he immediately went and read Sunken Forest, despite never having independently read a chapter book without pictures in it before. Des certainly inspired him reader to take his reading engagement to a higher level.
It was fantastic to see instant booktalking success in action! Des tours schools doing writing workshops so see if your school can be added to his schedule.
She especially does a lot of research for illustrating the war stories, hiring models and WWI artefacts and taking hundreds of photos to draw from so she could get the details correct. The war stories she works on are “hard to illustrate because they are so sad” but equally she says, they are “really satisfying.” She added: “Sometimes the hardest and most challenging things you work on were the most rewarding.”
This was a sentiment shared by several of the speakers. Getting to a finished product takes times and many drafts! She tries 6 – 10 layouts before she has a rough drawing and after that, a finished painting may take up to 6 hours.
Pollard is a spider expert, lecturing as an adjunct professor at the University of Canterbury and he has been working with spiders for 30 to 40 years. He is interested in telling stories about what spiders get up to and recently worked with WETA Workshop on the impressive display of oversized bugs for the Bug Lab show at Te Papa Museum.
Pollard is an engaging speaker and really brings bugs to life. He told stories (complete with eek-inducing pictures) about the jewel wasp that immobilises and enslaves a cockroach so it can use it as a living nursery, laying its eggs in it to hatch. Ingenious, but gross. We also heard about the clever Japanese honey bees that kill their enemy, the Japanese hornet, by gathering together in a ball around one and quivering – the heat of their buzzing wings stops the wasp from secreting their signal for more wasps to attack them.
Then there’s the insect that looks like a spider, but isn’t, just to scare off predators. After learning all these fun facts, we were left marvelling at the magic of the natural world.
Primary and intermediate students from all over Christchurch lined up to ask lots of questions of the authors and illustrators after they spoke. Here are their inquisitive questions, and answers aimed at inspiring young readers, writers and artists.
What were some of your favourite books (growing up and now) and what writers would you recommend?
An integral part of the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults is the HELL Reading Challenge, now in its fourth year. It has been hugely successful in getting kids reading and enjoying the pleasure of stories (and pizza). Kids can pick up their reading challenge cards at Christchurch City Libraries (until December 2017).
NZ Opera’s production of Carmen, Bizet’s tale of love and betrayal, gypsies and bullfighters, opens at the Isaac Theatre Royal this week and amongst the cast is a chorus of ten Christchurch schoolboys.
So what’s it like to be 12 years old and in a professional production of one of the world’s most popular operas? I asked twin brothers Archie and Jack MacDonald about how they got into singing, choirs, and their advice for other youngsters who might want to sing on stage.
How did you both get into singing and performing? Is that something you’ve been doing for a long time?
Archie: Well, we got into our first 2 big choirs [Christchurch Schools Music Festival special choir and the Christchurch Boys’ Choir] in year 5 but we’ve just been in heaps of school choirs and have always loved playing guitar and singing with our big sister, and it’s just sort of been a passion that we’ve always had all of our life.
Is singing something that you’ve always done together?
Jack: Yeah, I don’t think we’ve ever been in a choir that the other one hasn’t been in. And we busk together too. Either in the Riccarton Bush Market or the Re:Start Mall.
How much practising and rehearsing do you have to do for Carmen?
Archie: There’s quite a lot, particularly in our own time at home. We’ve been given a [music] file just to rehearse and get it all sorted… We’d do some at least every day for the last 2 weeks.
And for Carmen you’re singing in French. Is that a thing that you’ve done before?
Jack: We’ve sung in different languages before but not as much as in Carmen, so it took a few hours just to figure out the pronunciation and write it down in our music, and then there’s the notes and you have to put them all together and that’s hard but we’ve got the adult chorus to help us… when you’re acting as well, you’ve got to know what you’re singing about so that you can have facial expressions and act how you would if you were saying it in English.
And what’s it been like being part of an opera production?
Jack: It’s been fun. Last year we were in Evita with Showbiz but this is like another step up. We’ve got different costumes from everyone else and we’re running around [the stage] teasing soldiers, running up stairs and things – it’s been full on but fun.
Is it good to have other kids around (in the children’s chorus)?
Archie: Yeah, it sort of takes a little bit of the pressure off. Definitely a solo act is a bit trickier and a bit harder but everyone’s really supportive and it’s just great, ya know? But it’s a bit more fun with more boys.
It must be very nerve-wracking going in for an audition.
Archie: Yeah, you can never really take that away from an audition. You always want to get in and have heaps of time with whatever you’re auditioning for.
Jack: Yep, just being by yourself in front of someone and singing is quite hard… but then you feel good coming out of it.
So what’s the most fun thing about singing?
Archie: Definitely performances.
Jack: Yeah, performances in front of a crowd.
Is it more fun with an audience? What’s that like?
Archie: When the lights go up you’ll just see a crowd sitting in front of you and you’re just like “I’ve gotta do this. I can’t really muck up.” So yeah, it sort of boosts you a wee bit more and you’re really wanting to work hard.
Jack: Well, you feel nervous but then when you go off the stage and you’re done you’ll feel happy, like after an audition and you’ll think that you’ve done your job well. As long as you give it everything and work hard.
Is music something you’d like to do for a job one day?
Archie: I’ve always thought it would be a lot of fun to be involved in music but I’ve never really seen it as necessarily something to base everything around, as in, have as my job but it would be heaps of fun to just stay involved. I’ve really got a taste for how much fun it really is and I’d love to keep that going for as long as I can, really.
Jack: Yeah, I really like cricket but then getting into a good team as a job, that’s gonna be hard so I have to have something else to work on… I’m sort of still thinking about it.
Do you have any advice for other kids who want to be on the stage performing and singing?
Jack: Give it everything and enjoy it. And just work hard.
Archie: I’d probably say don’t hold back, just go for everything that sounds fun. Never think “there’ll be some people who are better at this role than me”, because it’s great to have an experience of just an audition. It sort of gets you a bit more used to things and less nervous for later on in life. The more you do things, the more you get to enjoy it, the more hobbies you get to have when you’re older. So just really get into it. Take every opportunity. Absolutely anything really. Go for anything and everything you like the sounds of.
Being in choirs seems to have been a big part of it for you.
Archie: [Christchurch Boys’ Choir] has taken us from having not too many musical opportunities to just singing with so many amazing groups and heaps of cool opportunities coming up.
Jack: It was only Boys’ Choir that was in Evita. We sang at the Crusaders vs Lions game (we sang Conquest of Paradise) and now Carmen. And they’re after boys to audition for Sister Act. Whenever we’re backstage we’re always singing and stuff because we’ve all got decent voices we can pick out a harmony while we’re sitting there… I really recommend the Boys Choir as a really top thing that will get you into heaps of things like this, end of year concerts, concerts in between, or maybe one thing a year like performances with Showbiz.
Archie: (about end of year Battle of the Bands at intermediate school) It was pretty cool because with the Boys’ Choir we’ve got audiences much bigger than a school of 500 people and we’re a bit more confident with that sort of thing. If we weren’t in the choir or involved with any productions or anything that’d sort of be massive and our hearts would be pounding. It would be crazy, you know, really nervous. It’s quite cool just to know, we were very confident going into that and it’s because we’ve just sung in front of so many people…
Kids (and adults) love the Lemony Snicket books A Series of Unfortunate Events, and the new TV series starring Neil Patrick Harris as Count Olaf is getting even more people hooked. The musical murder mystery The Composer is Dead full of that distinctive Snicket wit and black comedy, and it also introduces kids to the instruments in an orchestra:
The composer is dead? Who killed him? The clever Inspector interviews and interrogates each section of the orchestra. What were the violins doing? Where were the woodwinds? And why does the brass section sound particularly brassy tonight?
Christchurch thespian Michael Bayly narrates the tale, and David Kay conducts the orchestra.
Music featured includes John Williams’ Suite from Harry Potter, Ravel’s Bolero and Ginastera’s Malambo, and a brand new work Schismata by Christchurch composer Hamish Oliver.
The school holidays are fast approaching and I have to keep my children entertained for two weeks, oh please help me!! I have actually come up with a plan, so I thought I would share it in case you need help too.
KidsFest – thank goodness someone thought of the parents! I will book children into lots of fun activities and sweet talk their Grandparents into taking them.
Send them outside to play in the freezing cold so I will have heaps of washing to do because it is so muddy (You should see them after football – the mud club).
Put them in front of screens. I know it sounds bad, but hear me out on this one. No playing pointless games with some random character wandering around eating pizza (I think that is what my children were playing). I will set them up with educational activities from the library eResources for kids, they may even enjoy it too!
Give them something to read or listen to – but with a difference. eBook or eAudiobook, or even eMagazine. My kids have just discovered eAudiobooks and love them. It is brilliant – they are so quiet, especially in the back of the car where they would usually fight. OverDrive and Borrowbox have a great selection and it was super easy to download to an iPod shuffe.
Miss Manners would probably be spinning in her grave*, but seriously, I don’t know when I’ve laughed so hard as when I read Old MacDonald Heard a Fart! I took it home the other night, to read it to the Beecrafty family, but it seems not everyone enjoys a fart book as much as I do! Maybe I shouldn’t have read it at the dinner table, because of course it prompted a raucous fart-noise competition between myself and the Young Lad, and Mr K left the room in disgust. But if you’ve got kids who appreciate a bit of scatological humour, this picture book is a must!
There’s just so much to love about this book. As you probably already guessed from the title, it’s an irreverent, noisy version of the farmyard classic. It has lovely, vibrant, and expressive illustrations, with lots of little details and things to spy. I had to giggle at the Elvis rooster and the Jurassic Pork poster on the stable wall. The Ziggy Stardust unicorn in a Dalí landscape is really something, too.
But best of all has to be the instructions on how to create (verbally, I promise!) each fart sound. The Young Lad and I had great fun contorting our lips into the correct formations to make all the gross noises. Although he was quick to demonstrate his own favourite technique – I didn’t know what an accomplished fart noise creator he was. The next night, he was most indignant when I said I couldn’t read it again as I had taken the book back to work!
The story of this story is also quite something. Debut author Olaf Falafel tweeted that he needed a publisher for his new book, and before two weeks were up, he had a book deal! Isn’t that twitterising a whole lot better than covfefe?
“Characters burst off the pages, delighting us at every turn,” say the judges of this year’s New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. They have selected 35 finalists for the 2017 awards, out of 152 submissions.
“This year’s shortlist reminds us that books are powerful vehicles for helping children make sense of their world and gain a better understanding of themselves and others. At times the vividly descriptive writing was brutal and heart-breaking, providing moving portrayals of life through the eyes of children and teenagers. All finalist titles are convincing in their realism, skilfully laced with honour and honesty throughout,” says convenor of judges Pam Jones. Many of the books submitted dealt with serious issues. “War featured highly, alongside other topical themes like teenage pregnancy, surveillance, abuse, homelessness, racial tensions and bullying. Coming-of-age stories and characters that are living with extended family members highlighted the meaning of family and love,” Pam Jones says.
The awards are administered by the New Zealand Book Council on behalf of the New Zealand Book Awards Trust. The final award winners will be announced 14th August 2017.
A special Kia Ora to Canterbury finalists:
Gavin Bishop – illustrator, Helper and Helper – Junior Fiction
Jenny Cooper (Amberley), Gladys Goes to War – Illustration
Simon Pollard, The Genius of Bugs – Non-Fiction
Tania Roxborogh, My New Zealand Story: Bastion Point – Junior Fiction
The Esther Glen Award for Junior Fiction finalists will capture the imagination of every young reader, either immersing them in another world or reality, giving them a problem or mystery to solve or causing a laugh-out-loud response to witty conversations. “We’re pleased to see these books feature an equal mix of strong male and female characters from different races, ethnicities and backgrounds,” say the judges.
The judges enjoyed delving into the world of teenagers via the books entered for the Copyright Licensing NZ Award for Young Adult Fiction. “We immersed ourselves in the issues that plague young people—family, school pressures, relationship woes, sexuality and the looming adult world. Authors are not afraid to explore dark themes, but also to inject humour when it’s needed.”
An integral part of the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults is the HELL Reading Challenge, now in its fourth year. It has been hugely successful in getting kids reading and enjoying the pleasure of stories (and pizza). Kids can pick up their reading challenge cards at Christchurch City Libraries (open until December 2017).
Meet a finalist…
Come see bug genius Simon Pollard at South Library during KidsFest Do you like bugs? They may be small, they may be creepy, but bugs have super-sized powers! Join Simon Pollard, author of the wicked new book The Genius of Bugs, as he takes you into the world of the everyday and the extraordinary, the grotesque and the mysterious, with bug tales, facts and figures that showcase insect ingenuity and reveal astounding bug behaviour. Be entertained and amazed and bring your best bug questions. Ages 7-13.
When: Tuesday, 11 July, 10.30-11.30am Venue: South Library, Colombo St Price: FREE
Organised by WORD Christchurch
Library and Learning Centre holiday programmes and activities
Our libraries and learning centres offer a variety of accessible, safe and affordable activities for children during their school holidays. Programmes and activities are aimed at children between the ages of five and 15 years: