Approaching the SesterCentennial with Graeme Lay
On November 15, Slanza Auckland met in the library within the lovely grounds of St Mary’s College, Herne Bay, to celebrate a successful year and to hear editor/teacher/author Graeme Lay speak about “Fictionalising history - bringing the dead back to life”. What followed was not only a talk about an extraordinary man - James Cook - but also the story behind the writing of the James Cook Trilogy.
Graeme has written a lot of nonfiction history but noted that facts about history are only half the story. Non-fiction writers inform us but novelists move us and let us emotionally sympathise with the characters. With fiction we can attempt to get “into the soul of the characters”.
In the course of researching his book “In search of paradise” Graeme became very interested in initial European contact with the peoples of the Pacific Islands. Much had been written and published about these encounters, so moved were those who first came into contact with the island peoples. A trip to the Frankfurt Book fair to look for a publisher resulted in a request for for a book on James Cook emphasizing the contact between Cook, his men and Pacific peoples, and Graeme then wrote a sample chapter focussing on Niue, trying to show the reasons why the islanders repelled them. He wasn’t satisfied with this chapter and felt that others had done it more effectively, but the character of Cook stuck in his mind. In his research Cook appeared as a titanic figure. His image was everywhere - on stamps, banknotes, along with the famous portrait of him had been commissioned by Joseph Banks.
Graeme didn’t know much about Cook’s private life or motivations and decided that he wanted to tell his story in fiction commenting on what a big step it is to “have to walk the deck with your character”. Cook wrote many journals, as was required by the Navy but they didn’t contain personal reflections so Graeme decided to have Cook write letters and keep a journal specifically for his wife, allowing Elizabeth to be brought into the story even though she was “offstage” for much of the time. The three books in his
Graeme had already done a lot of research for his previous books on the Pacific which fed into this trilogy but, to judge by the quality of the talk he gave us, full of facts and anecdotes about Cook’s journeys, has spent years reading about and further researching Cook. As an audience we were completely spellbound.
With the 2019 celebrations of the first encounters between Cook, Tupaia, the Tahitian priest and navigator who travelled with Cook, and Maori where the Endeavour landed (Gisborne/Te Tairāwhiti, Mercury Bay, Bay of Islands and Marlborough), Graeme’s books, anecdotes and vast knowledge will be great additions to any school programme looking of this defining time in our history.
On the 15th March Auckland SLANZA met to celebrate the launch of David Riley's latest book in his sporting series; Powering up with Joseph Parker. We were very lucky that David could spend the time to be with us, as he is in high demand for his talks all over the country.
David is passionate about helping young people to engage with books and connect with their cultures. As a teacher and writer, he carefully chooses to write about sporting heroes with human qualities, in order to connect with his readers and encourage them to see the relevance of literacy in real life. He won't write a book unless he gets the go-ahead from his subject. We heard that Powering up with Joseph Parker took five years of research and a year to write. As someone who self-publishes (and relies on the income from one book to finance the next) David told us that he can lose as much as 40% if his books are sold via book suppliers rather than directly from his website readingwarrior.com. He encouraged everyone to buy from him directly and promised a speedy delivery.
David's talk prompted a plea for more books on the people and culture of Tuvalu who have a special problem as global warming refugees. Finally Karen Leahy thanked David very much for his time wishing him every success with his new book and calling him a treasure for the valuable work that he does in schools.
Susan Court (seen above on the right with Lisa Allcott, National Library Facilitator) has been a Reading Recovery Teacher since 1991, both in New Zealand and Australia, and is now a Reading Recovery Trainer and Tutor at the University of Auckland. Hot from speaking at the IBBY Congress, Susan addressed around 23 Teachers and Librarians on the last day of winter at The National Library in Parnell.
Learning to read is a very complicated cognitive journey and there is no one rule to fit all, as Susan Court says, “Reading, like thinking, is a complex process”. No one can explain why one child finds it easy to read and another finds it so hard. However, we all know the benefits of reading, and that even though it may take some students longer than others to acquire this skill, once learnt it will reap enormous rewards. As with the most competent of readers “the books we select to teach children to read should be ones they want to read and enjoy” (Clay, 2005).
In 1963 Marie Clay, a New Zealander, followed children in an observational survey of early literacy achievement for a year, and asked ‘Can we see the reading process going astray?’ As a result she came up with The Standardized Observation Survey of Early Literacy Achievement, which is a means of determining gaps in a six year-old students grasp of reading and writing, and a very useful tool for reading recovery. “All readers …need to find and use different kinds of information in print and combine the information which they find in print with what they carry in their head from their past experiences with language” (Clay, 2013:14).
Susan showed us examples of the Ready to Read series of books, which were first published in 1963. They are “student texts, for guided and shared reading distributed free to all New Zealand schools with junior classes.” (http://literacyonline.tki.org.nz/Literacy-Online/Planning-for-my-students-needs/Instructional-Series/Ready-to-Read) She then went on to clarify the difference between the two instructional approaches of shared and guided reading. Shared reading involves teachers using large books with their students so that they can enjoy, participate and respond to the story together. Once they have shared the stories many times, students can read smaller versions of the book independently. So guided reading texts are those introduced after the shared reading.
In order to demonstrate the elements of reading (and how confusing this can be) Susan put us in the place of students who are just beginning to learn how to read. She did this by showing us a page of symbols and challenging us to decipher them. Then she asked us to explain what techniques we had used to find any meaning. The next step was to look at a page of symbols with a picture and it was amazing what this added to the process. Finally we looked at some Ready to Read picture books and tried to spot the literacy challenges, and progression, across a variety of reading levels. As a group we found it a very interesting exercise and it even highlighted the reasons why some senior level readers find the repetition, and the familiar content of series, so compulsive.
Apart form gaining an insight into how children learn to read I think we all enjoyed the excuse of reading the Greedy Cat stories!
This term we are inviting all members (and non-members) to visit the fabulous bookstore 'Heroes for sale' on Wednesday March 23rd.