The New Ardoch volunteer!

 Re-posted from my other blog! I have succeeded in becoming a volunteer for the Ardoch Youth Foundation. Yay!

This morning I answered my phone to an unfamiliar number. It was a gentleman who introduced himself merely as Nick from Ardoch. After chatting a few minutes, and his asking me what my last school was, he suddenly realised, “Hey! I know you! You know me!” And I did. He came to my school last year during the Literacy Buddies program. We both laughed and chatted some more. 


I’m in. I’ve been allocated a primary school in the same suburb where I used to work. He did offer to contact my old school in case they wanted a volunteer, but I had a think about it and decided it wouldn’t be a good idea. I only said to him that people might think I was breathing down their necks so soon after leaving, but there was more. I know the politics of that school. I have been in touch with a friend there and I know some of what has been going on this year, enough to know I’d open my mouth and give some opinions. Not a good idea when you are just there to help. 


So, it’s a primary school for me. I will be learning something new. I’ve never worked with younger kids before, except for a single session at the primary school down the road from my own school, when the teacher running the school’s Writers Festival wanted us to do workshops. This is my chance! 


And even better than this is a special reason why it will be good to learn about younger children. Nick knows I’m a children’s writer. He asked me if I’d be interested in another program they do, a writer in residence thing, where you go to a primary school and run workshops for the kids, ending in a book, for which Ardoch will pay the printing costs. Not paid, of course, just another volunteer thing, but fun - and again, I’d learn something I can use later. 


Wish me luck, that this school gig will work out! For now, I’m delighted!  

Cross posted from Dreamwidth

My Book Is Banned! (From The Great Raven blog)

Yea, I too have joined the ranks of those heroes who have written banned books! Rejoice!

Well, at this stage it's one primary school, but there may be more, probably are - I wonder if I can do a reading from my own book for Banned Books Week? Opinions?

See, I have a huge pile of copies from when the distributor moved to Sydney and refused to take Ford Street books with them. I bought 500 at author's price. I couldn't bear to think of the fruit of many months of research and hard work bring trashed. I was fairly confident I could sell them at events, but so far, I've sold three to a boys' school and given away a fair few.

And this year I have begun to give copies to my younger admirers in Year 7. A few days ago I gave a copy to a student whose two older sisters and a brother were all in my book club and one of whom had been in my Year 8 class. Another boy in the class saw it and said, "Oh, wow, Crime Time! That's so cool!"

I asked him if he'd read it and he said, "Well, yes, I started to read it in 2012, when I was in Grade 2, but the library took it away because too many younger students were reading it."

Now, I'm the first to admit that Crime Time: Australians behaving badly is really not suitable for children of that age, though I suspect young Eden, my nephew Mark's elder boy, would enjoy it, and he can have a copy any time he likes. He is in Grade 2 and reading several years ahead, just like his old auntie Sue(I was tested in Grade 4 and found to be reading at Year 7 level). And perhaps the librarian was worried about angry parents complaining. Maybe some had complained.

But as a librarian, my own philosophy is, either they can handle a book or they can't. If they can't they will realise it soon and bring it back. If they can, then they should be allowed to try. And believe me, I am careful that what goes on my shelves is mainly YA. I have said no to several requests for Fifty Shades Of Grey, but I suspect they were not serious ones. They knew I'd say no. I did see one girl with a copy, but it was her own. The most they will get from me is, "Isn't that a bit hard for you? Have you read a page or two or only the cover?" But if they still want it, they can borrow it. (In fact, in my literacy class I teach a group of kids who are reading at Grade 3 level and the other day when some wanted books which really were way too hard for them I didn't argue. Two of them did return their books soon after. See? Not dumb!)

Still, I don't know what was behind the ban. I can't judge.

Which brings me back to my question: shall I, dear readers, do a virtual readout for Banned Books Week? Or is it tacky to read your own book?

By the way, the boy whose school had banned it got a copy. I signed it,"You are now old enough to read this - hope you enjoy it! From your favourite teacher..." And he told me that yes, he had a nice weekend, Miss, reading my book and nearly finishing it over those two days!

Western Chances Ceremony 2017

Last night I attended this year's presentation and celebration of new Western Chances scholars, to cheer on my two beautiful students, Priyanka and Genna. They both deserved their scholarships and Priyanka assured me that hers had come in very handy so far when I spoke to her.

It's a wonderful scholarship, aimed at students who have talent but no money. And once you're in, you get all sorts of goodies as well as the money - engineering camps(one of my former students is now a mentor), leadership seminars, etc.

And the alumni remain loyal. Last night's MC was a former scholarship recipient. He has just graduated medicine. His entire manner suggested someone who had attended an exclusive private school or even a selective state school. But if he had been either of those, he couldn't have had the scholarship. You have to attend a state school in the western suburbs(there is an Eastern Chances scholarship for kids on my side of town)and you have to come from a family with very little money. So this young doctor will be hanging out with others who did go to expensive schools and had parents in the trade. I cheered silently for him.

Then we had a speech from another alumnus who is now doing social community work and has become a member of the WC board. Her speech was meant to be inspiring and to a certain extent it was. Her parents had come to Australia as refugees, on a boat, in the days before they started imprisoning boat arrivals. She had grown up in poverty, as her parents had got what work they could. She had not even had enough money to buy pens, let alone textbooks... Hang on, not enough money for pens? The last time I looked, you could get a packet of ten for about a dollar if you know where to look. Enough to last the year. And if, by some chance, you really can't buy them, there's a welfare teacher to help you. And when she was at school, there was a fund for kids like her, especially for that sort of thing, before a Tory government scrapped it and the next Labor government handed it to the school for camps and excursions. Textbooks? Okay, but again, there's a welfare teacher to help with secondhand, but no matter. It was when she started telling us about how she would photocopy bits while her friends distracted the librarian that I really began to wonder.

Did she think the librarian would object to a few pages photocopied from a book? Even if she did, she might also have pointed out that at ten cents a page, it might be better just to borrow it. Not to mention that this was the girl who couldn't afford to buy a red pen!

And then, she told us, she got The Scholarship. New textbooks! Excursions! Pens, presumably.

Not once in that inspiring speech did she mention the teacher who helped her get that scholarship. Not once. From her speech, it sounded as if it had just happened. Never mind that someone believed in her. Spent lunchtimes and after school sitting down with her. Spent their own time filling in the forms(one of the WC staff last night said it takes a whole hour. Hah! The least time I've ever spent was a week, when the deadline was approaching before I had the chance to get started). No, never mind. She just got the scholarship from thin air.

Disappointing. Very disappointing from someone the WC staff thought was wonderful and invited to make a speech.

You do this for kids because they deserve the chance to become a doctor or an engineer or a singer or just because they are terrific leaders. But it would be nice to think they remember you.

A Lad Called Byron Makes My Day...

No, not the poet. Yesterday I was wandering around Twitter, as you do, and found this comment on my "notifications". "In 98 you visited my school and made my dream of writing real thanks I still have the signed book." It was signed by a man called Byron(no idea what is his surname)

I was a bit startled, but then remembered that back in the days when we had a Principal who was supportive of the libraries in our four campus school, we used to have an annual writers festival, like the rich schools. Well, not really like the rich schools. There's one which has some huge names visit it and invites the peasants to bring two students to their event, showing its true philanthropy.

But we had a budget of $2000, enabling us to choose one writer per campus. And because there were two Real Honest To Goodness writers actually working at the school, myself and Chris Wheat - a YA novelist with five books to his name - we extended the budget by paying a free visit to another campus.

That was the year when my book Starwalkers: Explorers Of The Unknown came out. I had a real honest to goodness book launch at one of our campuses(the teacher librarian's name was Vicki and she made me see how simple it is to arrange one in a school). But on inquiry I discovered that "Byron" went to the other campus. Because I was coming from outside, the kids assumed I was making my living at this and hadn't a clue I was doing a day job just up the road from them, at another campus of their own school. And that was fine. It made them feel good to have a Real Author speak to them, as it might not have if they found out she was just another teacher writing at two in the morning to finish a deadline instead of working in her pyjamas as some full time writers boast.

Anyway, Byron put in a link to his post about me on his blog and I will share it with you. When you've read it you'll realise why I had a happy sniffle afterwards. You just never know who's listening and what a difference you might make. (Well, admittedly me and Bram Stoker in this case). Thanks, Byron, for making my day!

And here's the link.

Happy Birthday, Dad! (Mostly) Reposted From The Great Raven

My Dad, Ben Bursztynski, in his younger years

Today would have been my father's 91st birthday if he had still been alive. I miss him terribly, even after seven years. Today I will take a bottle of whiskey to Mum's place and we'll drink a toast to him in a drink he loved.

Dad was a true "silver surfer" who discovered and adored the Internet in his later years. He was trying to write his memoir, but kept saying, "Oh, I just need to check up this or that thing I can't quite remember." He never got far with the memoir, but he had a wonderful time with the World Wide Web. Every morning he got up early to read the world's newspapers online. Every time I visited, he would be telling me something exciting he had read online that day.

He learned to Google very quickly. Any member of his family who might be mentioned online he'd look up. I had to be careful what I posted, because he'd find it.

Dad was the head of my fan club and set up a "shrine" of book covers, newspaper articles and illustrations from my works. Once, when lining up to do a colour copy, he asked the lady in front of him for help in copying my book cover; she was Mitch Vane, my illustrator! How cool is that, eh?

He came along to my book launches, of course. I remember his enjoying the free food and booze at the Ford Street launch of Trust Me! and his cornering Kerry Greenwood at the launch of Crime Time, to talk about me, me and me again. Lucky Kerry is such a nice lady.

Anyway, today is his birthday and I had to celebrate it here.

January 15, 1925, was a Thursday. "Thursday's child has far to go" and yes, Dad went a long way from his birthplace in Poland, first to Germany, where he met and married my Mum, then to Israel, where the family lived for six years, finally to Australia.

On This Day:

Nothing literary. A lot of horrible stuff, including battles.
However, this day in 2001 was the birth of that very useful research tool, Wikipedia!
1559: Crowning of Elizabeth I
1759: Opening of the British Museum. If you're in Melbourne go check out the State Library; it's designed to look like the BM. I remember when I was in London many years ago, I thought that the building, even inside, looked familiar...

In 1925, Dad's year of birth, John Logie Baird got the first TV pics out.


1622: Moliere, that wonderful comic French playwright.

1929: Martin Luther King! No explanation needed of who he was.

1935: Robert Silverberg, science fiction writer. My sister is a big fan of his. I've read some of his books, including Up The Line, a time travel story seen from the viewpoint of a time travel tour guide - great fun! The one I like best of those I have read is Gilgamesh The King, which I thought fascinating.

1944: Jenny Nimmo, children's writer. I read and enjoyed her Snow Spider novels, one of which was made into a TV miniseries.

Happy birthday, Dad!

Changes, Changes!

Until recently, there was a very pleasant cafe on my local shopping strip. I wrote a book there. It has been replaced by a wine bar. No food at all.

I used to live in this area as a teenager, before buying my flat around the corner from the home of my teens. There was a shopping strip even then. A small family supermarket was on the corner. Next to it was a milk bar, where you could buy groceries you might have forgotten. I bought my first Howard Fast novel for 40c from its book rack. I still have it. Further down there were other shops, including a pharmacy and a newsagent.

There is a wine shop where the family supermarket used to be. For a while, it didn't stock kosher wine, which was silly, given that this is a Jewish area and people do run out of wine and the nearest specialised kosher wine shop is a long walk away(Under new management, it does now sell what its customers need). The milk bar stayed in business, under different managements, till a couple of years ago, when it was replaced by a bicycle supply shop - which has recently closed. Why am I not surprised? It reminds me of the bridal shop on another shopping strip in the middle of a busy highway. A shop of this kind does better in a major strip or a mall. Perhaps it's too much to dream that it might be replaced by a bookshop...

No more newsagent and there's no need for a small pharmacy because there's a big one servicing the medical clinic down the road. And that has replaced a video library - there are very few of those left now, with everybody streaming, but I miss it, because I don't do streaming and sometimes I just want to borrow a DVD like a library book. Instead, I go there to get my soaps and toothpaste and prescriptions.

There is a dog grooming parlour where the pharmacy used to be, but that has been there for a long time, though I've never seen anyone go in or out. Where the newsagent used to be is now a computer repair shop, but again, I've never seen anyone go in or out. In fact, I've never seen any computers there! They must be in an inner room.

Ditto the real estate agent and the chiropractor shop. There are sometimes customers in the hairdresser shop.

The rest of the strip is now restaurants/cafes - I kid you not. One sells pizza. One is Turkish, which extended when the laundrette closed. That's a nice place to eat, but if you don't have a device to keep you amused, the lighting is too gloomy to read over dinner. And for me, reading over a solo dinner is a pleasure. Perhaps the chef would be offended I'm reading instead of properly appreciating his/her delicious meal, but it's a bit of both.

There's a coffee and cake place, very pleasant, and they do fresh squeezed juice. But their hours are limited.

There's a wonderful Indian restaurant where I go when I crave a curry. The owner knows me by name and I know hers. They have recently opened for breakfast and I may try it just once.

It's a comfort, because my favourite eating place closed suddenly, no explanation, though a possible family crisis. I miss Adam and Rachel! All the more because the replacement doesn't serve food. Just booze and coffee. Not even the typical pub bowl of chips or nuts.

When the place was being set up, the lady assured me they would have pub-style meals, just not breakfast "because you can get that at the other place." Well, yes, but there are also lunch and dinner at the rest of the eateries(except the coffee/cake place, which has lunch, but closes early). However, dinner would do. I sometimes come home too late to bother cooking and I don't always feel like a curry, or even Turkish. So I used to go into my favourite place and tell them I had decided to let them make me dinner. I'd have fish or pasta and a glass of white wine and read a book, sometimes even dessert, then go home and no dishes to wash.

Then the new place opened and it was strictly a wine bar, with a beer garden out back. Sometimes live music. But no food. I asked the proprietor, though I didn't point out that she seemed to have changed her mind in three weeks.

"I want to carve my own niche!"she said. What niche, I wondered. There's a pub across the road for those who just want a drink. And if they change their minds, there are also meals. And two licenced restaurants. And a wine seller. I didn't argue, though. I walked off and had my dinner at the Turkish place. Which will sell you a drink and a platter of dips if you don't want a meal.

I suspect it will last about as long as the bicycle supply shop.

Meanwhile, where do I write my next book?

More Adventures In Baking!

It is such a delight being able to bake again, thanks to my little bench top oven, that I've been doing lots!

Before Christmas I was busy with gingerbread, in hopes of being able to make gifts, but my gingerbread biscuits were not quite right. Oh, they tasted nice, but... The texture wasn't quite right. Too hard. So I tried again. This time better but dull. A writer friend proudly posted a gingerbread house made by an eight year old grandchild doing a course. It looked the right colour and it was... Well, all I could say, comparing mine, was "Ouch!"

I tried decorating the next batch with piped icing, but I never did get the hang of piping.

So, I found a cake decorating shop that had been recommended to me, to look for little silver cachou decorations. There were tiny ones and larger ones. I bought both. And there was a special deal on gingerbread man cookie cutters. Perfect!

I made both ordinary round gingerbread biscuits, using a large cachou to decorate each, and tiny gingerbread "boys"(the packet featured a family), decorated with a sprinkle of small cachous. The boys were fiddly. I'm told that plastic works better for cookie cutters than metal, and it's true, I had to roll up several and start again.

But the large cachous melted into the biscuits - perfectly edible, but not something to give as a gift. I gave the rest of the large cachou jar to a colleague who enjoys cake decorating. That's what they're for. The small cachous were fine for baking and the gingerbread boys were okay for gifts, though I only gave away one jar of them, to my library tech, herself a fine baker, who said she would offer them to her small grandson. Everyone else got honeycomb of the kind aka hokey pokey. That usually works well and you can make it in a frying pan.

On New Year's Eve I was with my mother, as I usually am on Saturdays, and we were watching Rick Stein in Berlin, making a German apple cake. It looked simple enough almost not to need a formal recipe - my successful brown bread recipe was like that. Still, I looked it up and then, because I believe in doing a recipe as written the first time, I had to go out and buy some ingredients. But you can't get "golden" caster sugar here, so I had to use white. Research told me that was fine.I looked for Demerara sugar, but it wasn't to be had either, not at that supermarket. Raw sugar would have been okay, but I bought coffee crystals, which I believe are not far off. So, after all that, I still had to substitute!

Still, nothing I had to substitute was going to affect the cake beyond flavour and I suspect it was a subtle difference. And the cake is delicious.

As usual, I'm making notes. I need to remove the lower rack next time, that top rack is too close to the fan and everything burns a bit. Perhaps a bit more sprinkled sugar on top. It adds to the crunch. Really, I think the cake could do with grated apple mixed into the batter. The cake is nice, but under the layer of apples it's a bit dull.

So, I learn something every time! I am so pleased with my new toy.

An Eye-Opening Experience

I'm on Twitter. Mostly I use it as a tool for communicating with fellow writers, teachers and librarians, and for finding out about events I might otherwise miss(fat lot of good that did me when I missed this year's YA Showcase at the State Library!)It can be touching; recently, a primary school teacher librarian was saying sadly that she had just done her last library class with Year 6. I agreed it's hard to say goodbye to kids you've looked after for several years - I am sad every year. I promised her they would go on to delight another TL and be looked after.

But occasionally I get into a discussion of something that involves real life and politics. I've debated US gun enthusiasts and one time, when I thought I was arguíng with Trump fans it turned out they were the opposite; the Trump portrait and "tweets" were for Halloween. We smiled at each other across the Twittersphere and wished each other a good day.

This week, I had a fascinating insight into the rabid right wing mind and it was not pretty! It began with a tabloid journalist whom I won't name because despite their arguing for "free speech" they really mean, "As long as it's me having a go at someone whose race or religion I hate." If someone has a go at them, they sue. And this one has the support of a big newspaper. They usually do.

In about five minutes she was showing her fan club about this leftist loonie who was being horrible to her and away they went. Despite their arguments about "logic" and "debate"(and I refuse to debate a Holocaust denier)they were descending to personal comments with her permission. My appearance, my dubious skills as a teacher and librarian. ("You should be against censorship!" And I do a virtual readout every year for Banned Books Week, and stock books in my library by writers who make me angry, because the kids enjoy them, and I've been attacked for my post about Banned Books Week too. I didn't respond; You can't say that to someone like that)and whether or not I was a lady, unlike his heroine.(I always thought a lady doesn't make personal comments, but I could be wrong). I was called a socialist nazi(small n). The fan club comprised Trumpistas from the U.S., a Brexiteer anti-immigration man from the UK and some very strange people from Australia. Oh, and there was one accusation of "Social Justice Warrior" from one possible Sad/Rabid Puppy. At least, they're the ones who use the term a lot. Guilty as charged! Anyone who has a go at my students will have to go through me.

I felt as if I needed a bath after reading the bios of these folk on their Twitter pages, and reading some other things they were talking about/retweeting.

I responded once to each, then blocked the lot of them. When I got to the tabloid journalist, I found she had already blocked me. Not until she'd had her say about all the things that were wrong with me and pitied my "poor students." (I told her she would hate my students, who were the sort of people she wanted to use "free speech" at.)

In one way, I like it when they get personal. It proves my point and means they know they can't win.

Remembrance Of "Engaging" Teachers Past... Reposted From The Great Raven

A while back, someone on Twitter wrote a post about What Is Wrong With Teaching, about how students shouldn't be stuffed with information. Well, der! We don't do this any more. Sometimes the attempt not to do it, mind you, can go over the top. One PD woman turned up in a costume to show us how to attract attention!(I can just see myself turning up at class in a yachting get-up like hers... The way the kids would react doesn't bear thinking about!) We keep being told we have to "engage" them, one of the latest buzz terms. And that word "pedagogy"! I have a vague memory that the pedagogue was the slave who walked children to school, not the actual teacher, though I could be wrong. :-)

Anyway, it brought back memories of teachers who "engaged" me. Odd how many of them were when I was in Year 11. There was my history teacher, Miss Russell, who, on the one hand, made us stand by our desks till she was satisfied no one was going to talk and then spent more of the period telling us we mustn't waste time! However, once the lesson got going, she had much to offer. She remembered pre-World War II Italy and told us about her desperate urge to draw moustache and glasses on huge portraits of Mussolini. She told us of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand as a "how it nearly didn't work" story and very entertaining it was. And what was best of all, she was the first teacher who encouraged us to question what was in the history books, on the lines of, " what's in it for him? Was he a friend of the dictator whose biography he wrote?" and so on. An improvement on the history teacher who left us to become a folk singer, though I wished him well.

The same year I had an art teacher, Mr Saunders, who encouraged me in my work, making small suggestions and somehow improving my standard till I was told it was good enough for me to do art in Year 12. My Year 11 English teacher, Miss Wellsford, got me interested in Richard III and brought her guitar in and sang us the little ditty about the bridge disaster and Henry Bolte, that went to the tune of "Michael row the boat ashore".

Of course, there were others. I rather fancied our Year 7 history teacher, Mr Watkins. :-) It helped he was young and good looking(He looked a lot like Dewey Martin, who was the hero of the film Land Of The Pharaohs) But one thing he taught us, about the handmaiden in the huge Mesopotamian burial, the one with the silver ribbon in her pocket, stuck in my mind and eventually made its way into my book Time Travellers: Adventures In Archaeology. It turned out to have been in Leonard Woolley's account of his excavation at Ur. There was our Year 10 French teacher, who showed us a nonsense word that proved the weirdness of the English language.You write "ghoti" which, using several strange English pronunciations, should read"fish". I still use this in my literacy classes to show ESL kids that, no, they're not going crazy. I want to thank all those teachers - and others - for enriching my life.

From A State School Teacher-Librarian To ... the "Head Of Library"

Dear "Head Of Library",

I read your article in a librarian journal. It was about improving schools' perceptions of teacher-librarians.

Which is absolutely fine, I'm all in favour of getting some respect from the administration. It's when you spent your entire article giving advice to "library teams" to remind everyone that they are teachers as well as librarians that I started to wonder what kind of schools you've been working in lately. I looked you up and found you'd been "head of library" at a couple of private schools and were now working part time at another private school and enjoying the break from being in charge. You did say you'd worked at some state schools, though not which ones, and I suspect they were nice middle-class ones in areas where the parents can afford private education but have chosen to send their kids to a state school. They're the kind of schools where you can put a laptop computer on the book list and know parents will buy it.

Well, I'm head of library too, as I'm the only teacher-librarian on my campus. My team consists of me and a two-day-a-week library technician and I'm lucky to have her. If she retired or left, I would be alone. It saves money. They don't cover her any more when she has to take time off. They used to.

And I don't have to remind anyone that I'm a teacher, because, despite being the sole TL, I also have to teach classes. For that matter, so does a friend of mine who is now working at a private girls' school, who is only a little better off than me in staffing, though I bet her budget is better.

What I really want is to have my job as a librarian recognised, stuff the teaching side of it! I'd like to have a support team like yours, Head Of Library, to be able to get together and do great things that cost money, then pat ourselves on the back for being terrific librarians and also teachers(don't forget!)

But you do what you can. I haven't had time to do things like Readers' Cup, though I probably should invite kids to do the Premier's Reading Challenge. It's better if you have support from the English staff, but it can be done informally.

I have been able to do book launches and get in the newspapers for those events. I'm running a student book club, which helps choose books for the library and goes on excursions when I can arrange something cheap for them. I write a book blog and occasionally invite students to interview authors, said interviews going on to my blog.

I've been lucky, as a writer, to have some fellow writers offer us a freebie(they get fed and gifted and newspapers are called, the best I can do, since I can't pay them). We're members of YABBA, which offers the occasional freebie too.

I've done virtual readouts with the kids for Banned Books Week. Hey, it's free and they love it!

My colleagues and the kids know what I do. I wish the admin did.

But please, Head Of Library, stop giving advice to people who have had greater challenges than you.

Thank you.