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'Your mission, Morris,' said Ron Gorman, chair of the Australian Children's Literature Alliance, 'if you choose to accept it, is to don the mantle of Australian Children's Laureate for the next two years and go into bat for stories.' (Introduction)
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On an escalator heading for the second floor of a hopping centre recently, not thinking of much, my eye wandered over the wall tat bordered it. It was painted in a shade of warm beige but what caught my attention was an elegant piece of typographical design painted on it that was obviously not graffiti. In large white lettering it simply read 'Books show us how to live'. Nothing else. No advertising. Just a simple sentence that lifted the heart and to which I kept returning at odd moments of the day.
What a sweeping statement! What a place to find it! How to interpret the message?
I think books are sly things that certainly do contribute to an understanding of just about everything but, apart from nonfiction, often in ways that are not obvious. Picture books not only cover a multitude of life experiences from seeing yourself in characters that may, for younger readers be an animal, or a child just like themselves, and for older readers provides an experience that allows them to walk in another's shoes. Who doesn't appreciate the depiction of friendship, familial love and burgeoning self reliance that pervades many picture books through the simple act of naming things, or, at a later stage engaging with characters in early readers and then in novels as they experience life at different ages. How many children have learned of lives unlike their own, to value diversity, to see themselves in particular characters and perhaps benefit from reading about others that are different. It would certainly be unusual (if not down-right disappointing).
And then there is fantasy that technically is not 'real' but in which life is writ large and characters, whilst seemingly different, in fact live by codes of behaviour that may reflect our own, or, be so different that it makes us reassess our own.
Nonfiction for children, a more obvious form of learning, comes in many formats: narrative, point and identify, encyclopaedic and a vast range of educationally based material. The subjects they cover are vast, as is the physical presentation of the books themselves.
Taken together, story and the books that contain them, play a very large part in our lives. (Editorial)