Feature Week 35: Children's Author
Did your kids go on a reading adventure or take part in any fun reading activities during the school holidays? Week 35 of the National Year of Reading seems like the perfect time to celebrate children's reading and children's books by featuring Libby Gleeson, one of our children's author ambassadors. She is widely recognised for her wonderful picture books and novels for children and teenagers.
Born at Young in New South Wales, Libby and her family moved to Dubbo while she was still in primary School, where her father became the Deputy Principal of the local high school. Libby followed in her father's footsteps by completing a Bachelor of Arts and then a Diploma of Education, and went on to teach English and History. After teaching for a few years Libby resigned to travel and live overseas. While in England she qualified as a teacher of English as a second language (ESL), and it was here that she also began her first novel, 'Eleanor, Elizabeth'.
Libby is now a full time writer of novels, short stories and picture books for children ranging from preschoolers to teenagers. She explores many issues faced by younger people such as fear, jealousy and conflict. She has written over 30 stories, and has also written scripts for the ABC 'Bananas in Pyjamas' and 'Magic Mountain' series.
She has been shortlisted for, and won, many awards including the Lady Cutler Award for Services to Children's Literature. In 2007 she was awarded the Order of Australia. Libby received special recognition in 2011 as part of the NSW Premier's Literary Award for her numerous contributions to the children's book. In February this year Libby was awarded the 2011 Dromkeen Medal for her significant contribution to the appreciation and development of children's literature in Australia.
In addition to her writing, Libby is an Adjunct Professor at the University of Sydney in the Faculty of Education and Social Network. She is a Director for the Public Education Foundation, Founding Chair of the Advisory Group for Westwords, a Foundation Member for the NSW Premier's Reading Challenge and an ambassador for the National Numeracy and Literacy Week.
'Red', Libby's latest book was published in May 2012 and tells the story of a young girl who is caught up in a cyclone that tears through the Eastern suburbs of Sydney. She wakes up alone and with no idea of who she is or what has happened.
Take a look at the following trailer to get a feel for the book:
Another of Libby's recent books, illustrated by Freya Blackwood, is a picture book titled 'Look, a book!' It was shortlisted for the 2012 CBCA book of the year, and tells the story of two children who come across a book and the magical way in which their world begins to change.
Libby's thoughts on reading and the National Year of Reading
At the NSW launch of the National Year of Reading, Richard Glover spoke of his great love of reading, the joy and the pleasure it has brought him. I agree and I share his view that reading has had a civilizing effect on the community. Reading literature, fiction or nonfiction, puts you into a one-on-one conversation with a writer and through the characters, gives you perspectives that may differ from your own. Empathy is the outcome. Paul Jennings, that most successful of writers for young people put it succinctly, 'I don't bash people up,' he said 'because I read books. I know what it is to be other.'
I salute librarians and others who are part of the National Year of Reading. We can't ever know the total outcome: the knowledge and ideas shared, the fun, the delight and the pleasure enjoyed, but I'm willing to bet, it's massive.
Libby's reading habits
- Was your family a reading family? I grew up in a family where there was no television and all of us, parents and six children were readers. I've tried to create a similar reading environment for our three children.
- Did you like to read as a child? I loved reading. I haunted the local library and regularly took out a swag of books.
- Which books are by your bedside right now?
Now, beside my bed I have a work of nonfiction, 'Moby-duck' by Donavan Hohn. That's about the rubber duckies that spilled from broken containers in the North Pacific Ocean and floated all the way to the USA. Dorothy Porter's 'The bee hut' is also there and I often read some of her poems before I fall asleep at night. Cate Kennedy's 'The best Australian short stories, 2010' is also there.
- What was the last book bought from a bookshop?
'Mateship with birds' by Carrie Tiffany.
- What was the last book you received as a gift?
'On Western Sydney', published by Westside. This is a collection of poetry and prose written by and about people in Western Sydney. Lots of the writers are new to being published.
- Do you ever cheat and read the end of the book first? Never, never, never. I want to know the end but more importantly I want to see how the writer takes us there.
- Estimate the number of book you own. I reckon there are about 1,700 books scattered around our house. Some are in the lounge room, the kitchen, the study and the bedrooms. There are even books in the toilet!
- Do you have lots of books on the go at once or just one? Just one. I like to be so involved in a book that there's no brain space to devote to another.
- What was the first book that you can remember reading or having read to you?
I'm not sure about this one but I think it was the Little Golden Book 'The taxi that hurried'. We had lots of these little books in the house and I also remember 'The fuzzy duckling', 'The poky little puppy' and 'Tawny scrawny lion'.
- How do you get hold of books? My family gives books for birthdays and Christmas and as well I have two favourite local independent bookshops: Gleebooks and Better Read than Dead. If I really want a book, I buy it. I'm also in a reading group so books get passed around there too. And there is always the local library.
Libby's favourite reads
When I was a young teenager my favourite book was 'A girl of the limberlost' by Gene Stratton Porter. Published in 1909, it's a passionate, gothic tale of a young woman's determination to get an education and to uncover the secrets of her family.
Another favourite read is 'Beloved' by Toni Morrison. This powerful tale of one black woman's life after the American Civil War made me realise that although I had studied the period, I didn't really know anything of the reality of one who had been a slave.
'The children's Bach' is a favourite novel by Helen Garner. She writes beautifully with such clean, clear prose. It is so rich in imagery that I can read it again and again.
Libby is the chair of the WestWords Advisory Group. WestWords is a youth literature project aimed at children in Western Sydney. Regular literature programs seek to engage children and teenagers in reading, writing and illustrating, story, poetry and drama. WestWord programs are driven by a belief in the power of story to change lives and communities.
To find out more about Westwords, a National Year of Reading partner, take a look at their website: