Author Archives: admin

About admin

Slap Happy Larry is a two person development team of Dan Hare (coder) and Lynley Stace (art and story). Dan and Lynley live near Canberra, Australia, though Dan is originally from the central NSW coast, and Lynley is from Christchurch, New Zealand. They have one daughter, Hannah, who comes in useful for user testing, and a Border collie who happily helps out with sound FX (at least when it involves munching noisily on kettle fried chips.)

A Collection Of Literacy Links

No advantage..

1. The meaning of literacy has expanded. Subject Specific Literacy offers a  list of ways in which literacy is taught across all subject areas, from Literacy Gains.

2. Please stop calling yourself a grammar nazi is a thought-provoking read from Daily Life

3. Literacy, Families and Learning: Providing practical, timely and sound support and advice for parents, teachers and teachers in training.

4. Reading Skills Pyramid from Time4Learning

5. Bower, Gordon, and Daniel Morrow. “Mental Models in Narrative Comprehension.” Science: New Series 247 (1990): 44-48. JSTOR. Web. 25 January 2009.

6. Kerr, Matthew, and Sonya Symons. “Computerized Presentation of Text: Effects on Children’s Reading of Informational Material.” Reading and Writing 19 (2006): 1-19. EbscoHost. Web. 31 July 2009.

 

 


Stories To Complement *The Artifacts*

The Artifacts is a story about:

  • the power of imagination
  • the value of memory over material objects
  • loss
  • disappointment
  • betrayal

Here are some stories you might like to read/study if you are interested in themes touched upon in The Artifacts.

Picturebooks

These next three books are similar to The Artifacts in that they share a counterpoint in genre: The words are realistic while the pictures are fantasy. This creates tension between the “objective” and the “subjective”. (See ‘How Picturebooks Work’, by Maria Nikolajeva and Carole Scott.)

WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE BY MAURICE SENDAK

Both stories are about a boy who experiences a rift between himself and his parents, and who then retreats to his own bedroom only to retreat further into his imagination. In both cases, what happens in the boys’ imagination reflects what happens — or what they wish would happen — in their real lives.

For a detailed analysis of the interrelationship between words and pictures in Where The Wild Things Are, see the academic paper by Lawrence R. Sipe: How Picture Books Work: A Semiotically Framed Theory of Text-Picture Relationships (1998). This may be useful for teacher preparation rather than for young student use.

Like Asaf in The Artifacts, Max starts from the security of his bedroom, explores the wider world in his mind, then returns to the safety of his bedroom. See Room With A View: Bedroom Scenes In Picturebooks by William Moebius, Children’s Literature,Volume 19, 1991.

THE COAT-HANGER HORSE BY KYM LARDNER

This is another story in which a boy is confined to his bedroom — not because he is in trouble or because he is sulking but because he is ill. I suppose his imagination could be interpreted as delirium, but he may simply be biding his time by using his imagination to amuse himself. His quilt becomes a landscape for instance, and his bed becomes a sea in the ocean. I think most of us have imagined that our bed is floating in an ocean (no?) and the patchwork quilt analogy must be fairly common too. I’m reminded of a Gonsalves painting.

THE DANGEROUS JOURNEY BY TOVE JANSSON

 

 CLANCY & MILLIE AND THE VERY FINE HOUSE BY LIBBY GLEESON ILLUSTRATED BY FREYA BLACKWOOD (2009)

This story is similar to The Artifacts in that a pre-adolescent boy is forced to move house, from a small, cosy house in the suburbs to a large apartment in an urban area. Clancy (who like Asaf appears to be an only child) is not happy about this move, and cannot identify with either of his parents, who think the new abode is marvellous.

Some close reading questions for this picture book might go something like this:

How has the illustrator made Clancy’s old house seem much more cosy than the new one? (Colour, perspective)

On the first page, and again towards the end, the clouds look like three pigs. If we assume that Clancy sees the clouds like this, what does it say about Clancy’s personality? What else in the pictures supports your interpretation of Clancy’s personality?

Where has the illustrator made Clancy’s parents seem united, with Clancy emotionally ‘on his own’?

Talk about the role of cardboard boxes in this story, from their most literal part in the plot to the most metaphorical interpretation you can think of.

What does the fat snail symbolise? (Hiding from the world. Almost agoraphobia. The fat snail also marks a turning point, from realism to magic realism. Now, the illustrations will be a little over the top. For example, the boxes will now tower above in a way that defies real-world gravity.)

Is Millie real? Give evidence for or against. (Her clothes are very similar to Clancy’s — similar in an unlikely way — so she may not be. In fact, she looks like the girl version of Clancy, even down to the two-syllable name. The background of these illustrations is a kind of textured cloud, in which case Millie could have appeared from ‘nowhere’. But Millie does talk to him, and on the final page the stuffed dog has been discarded, suggesting that a real-world friend has displaced an inanimate stand-in. The reader never knows for sure.)

Why does this story rely on allusions to the classic fairy tale The Three Little Pigs? ()In which housing is a part of the plot. Apart from the plot point of moving houses, there exists anxiety in both stories. Perhaps The Three Little Pigs is really about the anxiety of moving house, in which we worry that our new abode will not protect us adequately. The Big Bad Wolf would in that case stand in for all the worries associated with intrusion but also loneliness and other fears. At a more literal level, Clancy builds a stronger and stronger cardboard house, using his imagination to reassure himself that he is living ‘in a house of bricks’ and is thereby fortified and confident in his new environs.)

 

THE WILD BABY GOES TO SEA BY BARBRO LINDGREN AND EVA ERIKSSON

 

 

 

Short Stories

SEASON OF DISBELIEF BY RAY BRADBURY

You’ll find this story in Ray Bradbury Stories Volume 2.

Once time has passed, it has passed. We only have the present. That’s the message I took away from this lovely short story by a master of the form.

Mrs Bentley was a saver. She saved tickets, old theater programs, bits of lace, scarves, rail transfers; all the tags and tokens of existence.

Her collecting tendencies are magnified by the fact that she has lost her husband, John. She wants to save everything that reminds her of him. One summer’s day Helen Bentley sees three ten-year-old children (Jane, Tom and Alice) sitting on her lawn. At that moment the ice-cream van comes past, so she buys them an ice-cream. The children are not very polite, and when Mrs Bentley tells them she’s 72 years old, they hardly believe it. They certainly don’t believe that Mrs Bentley was once a child too. This is too horrific to imagine. Perhaps they’ve never considered before that one day, if they’re lucky, they’ll be old too. The girls leave after a distasteful exchange. Tom follows slowly behind and is the only one of the three children to thank Mrs Bentley for the ice-cream. (I suspect the girls are more terrified of looking like Mrs Bentley because of the shared gender.)

Mrs Bentley can’t get the children out of her mind, so in the evening she stands on her porch for half an hour. When they come past again she invites them inside and shows them some of her special possessions, hoping to prove that she was young once too. Among the trinkets is a photograph of herself when she was a girl, but the two girls still won’t believe that it’s her. They accuse her of falsifying information, of taking off with a picture of another little girl. As the girls leave, they steal a comb, a ring and the photo.

Lying awake in bed, later that night, Mrs Bentley imagines what her husband would have to say about it:

They stole nothing from you, my dear. These things don’t belong to you here, you now. They belonged to her, that other you, so long ago.

She recalls an earlier conversation with him:

Why did you save those ticket stubs and theater progams? They’ll only hurt you later. Throw them away, my dear…It won’t work…No matter how hard you try to be what you once were you can only be what you are here and now. Time hypnotizes. When you’re nine, you think you’ve always been nine years old and will always be. When you’re thirty, it seems you’ve always been balanced there on that bright rim of middle life. And then when you turn seventy, you are always and forever seventy. You’re in the present, you’re trapped in a young now or an old now, but there is no other now to be seen.

The following day the children return, and Mrs Bentley has made up her mind to let them take whatever they like. In return, they help her build a bonfire of items she need no longer keep. Now, whenever they ask her questions, she doesn’t try to persuade them that she was young and pretty once. She insists that she’s always been seventy-two, that she doesn’t have a first name, that she’s just called ‘Mrs Bentley’.

 

THE FISHERMAN AND THE THEEFYSPRAY BY PAUL JENNINGS ILLUSTRATED BY JANE TANNER

This is a story for younger readers — even preschoolers would appreciate the tale of a fisherman who catches a very rare fish and decides to throw her back into the sea. That night he goes home with no fish, but he does have his memories, which he values more than the physical object. In this respect, the fisherman has learnt the same lesson that Asaf reluctantly learned as a boy.

STORIES THAT CELEBRATE IMAGINATION (CURATED WITH BOYS IN MIND)

See this post at Books 4 Learning for some excellent examples, of particular interest for parents and teachers of boys.

 


I Found A Use For Those Spare Bricks Out Near The Compost Bins

But I’ll have to be ‘in-between app projects’ if it’s to get done. In the meantime, I’ll admire this picture:

Repurposed bricks made into beautiful books by Light Reading, a shop in Melbourne.


What It Looks Like In The Beginning

Creativity is messy, and these are reassuring:

Famous Authors’ Handwritten Outlines for Great Works of Literature.

Meanwhile, I took a look at the original concept sketches I drew for a mock up of Midnight Feast. One thing’s clear: I don’t do pretty mock ups. I’m glad I write the stories myself because I wouldn’t want to have to waste time doing pretty mock ups for approval. The advantage of being writer/illustrator in one is that my concept sketches exist only to remind me of my own original idea.

storyboarding IMG_1488 IMG_1489 IMG_1490 IMG_1491 IMG_1492 IMG_1493

 

Also, I don’t have the messiest workings. This is pretty ugly: Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Manuscript for “Ozymiandias”

This is cool: Inside The Sketchbooks Of Famous Artists

And funny: The Original Manuscripts, What Books Look Like Before They Are Sent To The Publisher from Laughing Squid


I Like Staircases

I like drawing staircases, so it seems. There’s nothing like a steep staircase to add some tension and drama to an illustration.

Page 14 of The Artifacts with development notes

Page 14 of The Artifacts with development notes

 

Page 15a of Midnight Feast

Page 15a of Midnight Feast

Speaking of ominous staircases, you may have seen this picture on the Internet:

The Place behind the photograph

Over at Messy Nessy is an explanation:

“The Stairway to Heaven, also known as the Haiku Stairs, is a series of 3,922 steps in Oahu, Hawaii on the Koolau Mountain Range. The staircase was built by in 1942 by the U.S. Navy and its scenic views made it a popular tourist attraction. The Stairway to Heaven was closed off in 1982, and scheduled to re-open in 2001 after an $875,000 renovation but local residents opposed access in a NIMBY (Not In My BackYard) move. Hikers ignored the signs placed by the city, the city hired security guards to block access, so hikers then accessed the Stairway to Heaven in the middle of the night.”

Does anyone else find it ironically hilarious that the steps are made of anti slip metal? I mean, it’s necessary and all, and probably better than nothing, but that, folks, is what you call a death trap. Safety tread or no safety tread.


This is cool.

Mapping Manhattan.

I have to do Mapping Murrumbateman. We can’t be upstaged.

MAPPING MURRUMBATEMAN

 

If drawing a map by hand isn’t your style, Beautiful visualisation tool transforms maps into works of art, from The Guardian

 


Narration and Reading Aloud

Narration

Why not a female narrator?

Men’s voices are scarier. At least they are to me. (Unless we’re talking Kathy Bates inMisery.) Since Baby Grand is a suspense thriller, I wanted its telling to be pretty darn creepy. And I got some pretty creepy samples sent to me too. But, keep in mind, I also needed this male voice to be able to carry those chapters in which Jamie was the narrator, so I needed a male voice to have a pleasing quality, with only a hint of creepiness.

Why I picked a male narrator for the ‘Baby Grand’ Audiobook

It would have been nice to have a female narrating Midnight Feast, since it’s a story about a girl, and also because there are too few female narrators to achieve anything like a gender balance, but when I read the post above I realised it’s okay to have reasons for stuff like this.

The nice thing about storyapps is that they are narrated. This makes them good for a wider variety of age groups. Here’s a short article offering 5 ways to use audiobooks to help struggling readers. Naturally, narrated storybook apps are included in that group called ‘audiobooks’.

 

Reading Aloud

READING ALOUD: WHY IT MATTERS – A GUEST POST BY SPEECH AND LANGUAGE THERAPIST PRIYA DESAI at the Nosy Crow Blog

Lake Bell’s ‘In A World…’ Explores Why Women Aren’t Used To Narrate Trailers


Nudity In Picturebooks

This morning Cosmopolitan reports that UK authors are pushing for children’s literature to include sex in fiction for kids. That’s quite a headline grabber. Of course, reading the actual article offers a less sensationalist request:

  • Malorie Blackman says that including sex in fiction for kids will expose them to it in a shame-free, healthy and positive “safe setting”
  • Philip Pullman agrees, and says that  kids can benefit from seeing sex in a “moral context” where “actions have consequences”.

They’re not asking too much, are they?. Bear in mind that in the publishing world, ‘children’s literature’ includes the young adult category.

I wish them all the luck in the world and, given the current attitude towards nudity in picturebooks, I think they’ll need it. Things haven’t changed all that much since Maurice Sendak’s most controversial book In The Night Kitchen was released in 1970. In that book is a picture of a little boy with no clothes on. We can see his penis.

I haven’t seen anything quite like that in picturebook since. Maybe illustrated eBooks and self-publishing will offer writers opportunities to push the boundaries a little more? After all, not everyone is on board with the censorship of innocent nudity in picturebooks, and I count myself among them. However, distribution of our work relies on bigger powers, and here are the developer guidelines from Apple:

 

apple-rating-chart setting-a-rating-apple-guidelines

 

I recently saw a picture from a fellow developer who’d had his 4+  rated app rejected by Apple. The screenshot depicted a very innocent, almost inhuman looking, smooth-bodied creature. The advice from Apple was to ‘put some clothes on it’.

So, regardless of my personal attitude towards censorship, the real decision makers are standing at the gate of that walled garden.

MORE ON CENSORSHIP IN KIDLIT

Censor or suck it up? Racism and children’s books At Misrule

On censorship

Below are some notes from an interview between Australian author Sally Rippin and Kim Hill (Saturday Morning With Kim Hill, Radio New Zealand)

Examples of things which have been taken out of children’s books before publication:

  • children from walking alone (because guardians are legally obliged to accompany children)
  • sharp objects (because children shouldn’t be given sharp objects)
  • a boy climbing a ladder (so as not to encourage the climbing of ladders)
  • ‘Crossover’ fiction gets away with more compared to books marketed as ‘young adult’.
  • Gatekeepers are parents, teachers, librarians. There is a certain amount of self-censorship when writers write.
  • There is pressure on illustrators to create racially ambiguous characters rather than specific to one culture.

Sort of kind of related and also interesting: a post on female sexuality as depicted in young adult fiction, at YA Highway. And here is an article by author E.M. Kokie about how much more difficult it is to write about the sexual experiences of a female character than a male.

The most challenged books of 2012, and why from Book Riot


Illustration Friday: Surveillance

IF-surveillance

that feeling you get when you’re a teenage girl in the locker room and you’re required to disrobe


Thoughts On The Problems With Boys And Picturebooks

no boys allowed

UPDATE: Here is the latest hand-wringing on boys and books, this time from Jonathan Emmett.

 

The New Statesman has published an article by Jonathan Emmett who points out that the picturebook world is dominated by women. I’m simplifying here, but basically he argues that this is one problem with picturebooks today, and the feminisation of picturebooks explains why boys aren’t reading as early as girls are.

I feel very uneasy about this article, but I’m just going to respond in bullet point form, because I haven’t worked up my thoughts into a paragraphably coherent state.

All thirteen judges on this year’s Greenaway and Carnegie Medal panel are women. Last year there was only one man. Although there are plenty of men writing and illustrating picture books, the gatekeepers in the world of picture books are overwhelmingly female.

I agree that this is a problem. I agree with the author’s suggestion further down: fix it with quotas. I also like the idea of gender quotas for the big, important, financially significant book prizes for adults. Perhaps the picturebook world can lead the way. Part of me is glad that this imbalance is being noticed and talked about. Because that, folks, is what it feels like to be under-represented in the literary world.

There is a problem with boys and books — they don’t seem to want to read them as much as girls do. As a result, boys’ average reading abilities are lagging behind that of girls by the equivalent of one year’s schooling.

Is the problem instead that we’re expecting too much of our kids too soon? I hear that in America, what used to be taught in the first year of elementary school is now taught in pre-schooling.

“Kindergarten is now first grade, and first grade is now second grade,” says Anne Stoudt, a kindergarten teacher in suburban New Jersey for 19 years.

- Scholastic, What Happened To Kindergarten?

Is it such a problem that boys are lagging behind? The reason this doesn’t concern me too much is because (speaking of large numbers, obviously) boys catch up in their own time. By the time students graduate from university (for instance) men will walk straight into higher paying jobs than their female classmates who did exactly the same degree. Did picturebooks really let those young men down?

One year after college graduation, men and women have much in common. In 2009, most women and men who had earned bachelor’s degrees the year before were young, single, childless, relatively inexperienced in the workplace, and working full time. We might expect to find little or no gender pay gap among this group of workers at the start of their careers. Yet just one year after college graduation, with their newly printed degrees in hand, men already earn more than women do.

- Graduating To A Pay Gap, from AAUW

It’s predominately women publishers that select picture books for publication, women teachers that choose which books to read in nurseries and infant classrooms and women customers that purchase picture books for reading at home. Women aren’t keeping men out of these gatekeeper roles, the imbalance is there because relatively few men are interested in occupying them, but as a consequence picture books tend to reflect female tastes more than male ones.

The picturebook world is indeed becoming a pink ghetto. That happens with any industry which women join in great numbers. It happened in the 1980s with teaching, when a great number of men turned away from teaching as a desirable profession after increased awareness and concerns about child protection. Since the picturebook world requires an understanding of children, and since it’s still women who are doing the majority of childcare work, it’s no surprise that picturebook gatekeeping has likewise been left to the women. Julia Donaldson has also pointed out recently that children’s books get very little media coverage in the UK, especially considering how many people are buying children’s books. This surely reflects a general disregard for this form of literature. If men aren’t waving their hands in the air wanting to be picked as gatekeepers of children’s literature, might lack of status have something to do with it? We should fix that.

Even picture books that are intended to appeal primarily to boys reflect the tastes of the mother or grandmother that will usually be buying them as well as the child they’re bought for.

Note to society: stop spreading the message that childcare, including the organisation of birthday parties, preparation of school lunches and buying of presents are women’s work. Note to fathers, uncles and granddads: buy picturebooks. Where money appears, product will follow. (Only one in eight dads take the lead with reading to their children.)

Picture book pirates are less prone to combat than their counterparts in other media, monsters and aliens less frightening, vehicles and machines less technically detailed.

I’ve noticed the same thing and I agree that picturebooks are becoming too tame. Nothing annoys me more than a classic fairytale which has had its ending ameliorated. Those little pigs got et, dammit. But this isn’t actually a boy thing. I’m pretty sure that well-loved little girls are just as capable of processing frightening monsters and aliens as well-loved little boys. I suspect this trend is in response to an increasingly frightening and busy world, in which picturebooks are thought to be a refuge.

Elements with strong boy-appeal such as combat, peril, villainy and technology that are abundant in U certificate films like The Incredibles are rarely found or diluted in picture books.

I don’t want to see The Incredibles held up as a model for picturebook action. In case it’s been a while since you saw that film, here’s one scene, as explained by the F-Word:

Mr Incredible, who believes his wife and children are dead, is hanging sobbing in a torture device. Mirage, who has seen the light, sneaks into the room, turns off the machine and tries to tell him that they are in fact alive. Before she can get the words out, however, he picks her up by the neck, chokes her and starts shouting at her. At this point his miraculously still-alive Elastigirl enters the room and, noticing her, he is so delighted he forgets all about Mirage and drops her in a retching, gasping heap on the floor.

Why does violence have ‘strong boy appeal’? Well, that depends on which side of the nature/nurture debate you subscribe to. But here’s one thing that makes logical sense to me: If we expect that little boys like ‘combat’ (also known as violence and fighting), and put it into picturebooks at every opportunity, little boys are indeed more likely to like combat.

both sexes should be equally represented on the judging panel of the Kate Greenaway Medal

Yes, I agree, but while we’re on the topic of equal representation, I’d like to see as many female characters as male characters in modern picturebooks. I haven’t done a count, but Janet McCabe has, and if you guessed that the ratio is about 2:1 male to female, you’d be right. Here’s the full paper. I’m all for gender equality, but personally, I think that ratio is more in need of urgent correction. On the other hand, if picturebook creators (writers, illustrators and publishers) weren’t consistently being told that there’s a boy problem, we might not see such a gender imbalance. There’s an old chestnut doing the rounds that ‘While girls will read anything, boys won’t read about girls.’ This isn’t actually backed up by evidence. This very article provides the counter evidence: Apparently boys aren’t reading even though picturebooks are heavily populated with male characters. Meantime, girls get annihilated. Not the answer.

if we want books to appeal to boys as much as girls, shouldn’t the UK’s “most prestigious children’s book awards” reflect male tastes as much as female ones?

There’s a few unspecified assumptions here. First, we’re starting with a gender binary. That is never good. Gender is better thought of as existing on a continuum, with the acknowledgement that differences between individuals are far more significant than generalised differences between different genders. We’re assuming that little boys and little girls are different creatures entirely. Maybe. But how? How are they different, exactly? Tell me how they’re inherently different and then we might be able to make a start on fixing this boy problem. Perhaps my own stance on this is starting to become clear. Write good picturebooks and they will come. Boys AND girls. Be aware of your own gender biases, but write first and foremost for ‘children who live in the same diverse and complicated world’, not for ‘boys’ or for ‘girls’, in order to fix some perceived gender problem. We should no more write for boys/girls than for blacks/whites, aboriginals/immigrants, men/women. It seems ridiculous to say of an adult novel, ‘This is for women aged between 25 and 30′, yet this is what marketers seem to expect of picturebook creators.

men from related professions such as teaching could be included [in the judging panel]

I’m not on board with this at all. Being good at one doesn’t make you good at or knowledgeable about the other. If there are indeed plenty of men in picturebook world itself (as pointed out in the article), recruit them.

 

An Interesting Thought: I Can Completely Understand Why Parents Spend More Time Teaching Girls Than Boys, from Mommyish

See also: BEYOND BOY BOOKS AND GIRL BOOKS by Lea Kelley at The Nerdy Book Club

An interesting piece about why men say they prefer non-fiction from TOC Reilly

ALA 2013: Attracting Reluctant Male Readers from The Hub

National Literacy Trust Report on Boys’ Reading at GMP

Boys Now Reading As Well As Girls, Study Suggests, from BBC