A recent week of Book Week workshops via zoom, at the Higaturu Oil Palm International School, was wondrous.
Students were willing to imagine and open their eyes to a sense of wonder, to explore other worlds within worlds, from nature, to rivers to the moon and outerspace.
We began with learning about cheeky Cassowaries hungry and looking for food after a cyclone, and imagining what they might say or think, and advanced to humourous dialogues within the river and exploring a sense of wonder, through sensory adventure poems.
Students learnt about the power of working in pairs and in groups and how many voices combined can create, extend and then joyously and confidently perform their creations.
Throughout I used my own illustrated poetry book, Magic Fish Dreaming, as the main mentor text with a storytelling session also of Michelle Worthington’s Book, Possum Games.
Both had kindly been posted and provided to the school by Tina from CYA. This meant we could read together, and as I have dialogue poems and question and answer structures this was fantastic to have each student have the book on the other side of the zoom.
I was impressed by how the students worked with each other on some in the river dialogues and their humour and inventiveness throughout the week began to shine through.
I am delighted the school community (families and staff) gave permission for me to share their work.
More important than products though, is the process of creativity that the children undertook within their classroom. By reflecting on that stories can come from that which you know through your senses and take you to places you might only imagine.
I hope these children, will create many more poems or stories and strengthen and contribute to building a publishing community within Papua New Guinea, beginning from anthologies within their school and moving beyond the anthologies for their communities. Building perhaps collectives for theirs and future generations.
With many thanks to the school, students , staff of the Higaturu Oil Palm International School, and Tina of CYA.
Photographs courtesy of the Higaturu Oil Palm International School, shared with their permission
So, continuing on from my last post on zooming to Higaturu Oil Palm International School, PNG for a most memorable book week, here is more about the classroom itself. This image is what it looked like from the point of view of the students in the main zoom room, before we were allocated to our learning zoom room with the students and their teacher.
So how did we end up with a confident performance of a group poem by the end of book week (despite the challenges of working via zoom and classroom learning space combined) and a wall full of beautiful art and sense poems?
This is where the immense dedication of the teacher, her assistant and children, going with the flow of a physically distant author communicating and coming to terms with being on a large screen, and stuck there, makes a massive difference.
As I communicated, using voice, slide shows, and virtual white boards, Ms Gwendalyn, and Ms Cynthia, her assistant, would further explain it to the students. Zoom can be tricky as I couldn’t walk around the classroom, nor easily read the body language of students, like I normally do. The students could only walk up to the front to ask me questions, and sometimes felt a bit shy of the screen.
Although by the end of the week they knew to keep an eye on the whiteboard for surprises, such as Riddles!
They became mentor texts for the students, to also learn about publishing, illustrating and cover pages.
We had a prior meeting on zoom the week before, with all presenting authors, Tina, Phil, Caroline, Albert and myself, meeting the teachers, and working out how we would proceed. I asked Ms Gwendalyn, to please put stickers on the children with their names, and she sent me a class list as well.
I ran the program by her, to check if it would be helpful for the students, and had a mix of activities to go with the books, such as art, drama, writing, all complementary to the text, as well as readings.
Although I have done many workshops this was my first time doing a sequence for a whole week, and in Papua New Guinea too, as normally I just have had two hour workshops so that was a blessing and a new challenge.
As part of the process we decided that each day it would be helpful for me to email Ms Gwendalyn, and just check in on how she felt the children had responded, as well as observing that during class time myself.
These consultations sometimes led to modifications for the next day which were beneficial for all. Although sometimes the messages took longer to arrive then we anticipated. That’s the internet for you.
The immense benefit of working over a whole week with the students and their teacher was we could use each earlier class as a foundation to the next class and creative task.
We could expand and apply new concepts into their work from previous sessions. The main challenge, was just making sure to go with the flow of what was engaging the students, and extending them to just the right balance.
This meant every now and then, me or Ms Gwendalyn, making on the spot easy to implement decisions to alter previous plans.
By the end of this post series, I’d like to feature some of the work of the students, the school is just doublechecking with their parents that this will be okay as it is my hope to introduce these budding authors to you through their work. Perhaps some of them will choose the pathway of authors, designers, artists or playwrights!
Another amazing thing, was the warmth of the author team and some of the zany things we decided to do, like change our head gear everyday…
I never expected that my first trip back to Papua New Guinea, since I moved to Australia as a one year old, would be in my fifties and via zoom and would be working with writers based in three different countries.
Yet, none of us knows our future, and so it was that the last week my first ever Book Week experience, occurred this way.
I was invited by Tina Marie Clark, to join a CYA team, including her, Albert Nayathi, Phil Kettle, Caroline Evari, (and works from Michelle Worthington and Dannika Patterson) that has been mostly going to the Higaturu Oil Palm International School there in person for the last ten years.
The last two years they have had to conduct the visit via zoom, because of COVID19.
Although I haven’t done Book Week before, I have done several workshops in libraries, environmental centres, and schools, to mentor creatives of all ages from kindergarten through to people all backgrounds in their seventies, in poetry. Something which became such a passion I ended up writing and publishing a poetry book, Magic Fish Dreaming, for children.
I wrote Magic Fish Dreaming, to express a sense of the place I was living in at the time, which was the Cassowary Coast, in Far North Queensland, as well as to demonstrate different poetry techniques which might appeal to children but also extend them. At the time of composing this work I was facilitating workshops in the community and needed to create original materials with a sense of the place I was living in, not just use what was already out there.
Magic Fish Dreaming, represents all the beauty, grandeur, magic, and heartache and I saw whilst living in that area, all captured for families to relive some of that and hopefully fall in love with poetry.
During this visit, I was able to bring all the experiences of the last few years, in designing workshops, as well as my recent enrolment training as a teacher (although for highschool) together into my contemporary practice.
I was delighted to see the effect of the workshops on the students and their teacher and teacher assistant. I can truly say I had as much of a feeling of joy out of this as out of being published.
My heart soared to see them engaged with the activities and WRITING! And finally confidently performing work they had collaborated on composing together.
What did we and the school do during the week to reach this point?
Wonderful anthologies, from Anthology Angels, are produced annually, and proceeds go to a different charity each year.
This year Anthology Angels are ambassadors for Walk for Prems and profits from the anthology will be donated to Life’s Little Treasures Foundation.
I have contributed a ridiculous rhyme this year, inspired by my family’s pet guinea pigs!
This is the third anthology I’ve been part of, and it’s truly a special one to contribute to, especially thinking of the children and families enjoying the books and the charities it supports. Writers and artists contributing have big hearts, as do the anthology angels production team.
Many congratulations to the contributors and to Jen Horn and Kayt Duncan, for the cover and design, and to Michelle Worthington.
I was happy to have some poems accepted for the Australian Fairy Tale Society Ezine, Bold Heroines and Magical Helpers, a short story to the about to be released anthology, South of the Sun and to publish my second collection of poems, Illuminations!
Looking ahead, I’m working on a new collection in which all these worlds begin to collide: fairy tales, music, soul, and the remaking of a world without racism, where picture poetry books might be rewritten and artists are trail blazers in community transformation.
We welcome Helene Magisson, the wonderful illustrator of Magic Fish Dreaming to the blog for a conversation which is sure to inspire aspiring author/illustrators.
We are so delighted to announce that Helene has published her first ever written and illustrated book with the equally amazing publisher Red Paper Kite ! In the conversation that follows Helene shares her dizzying and wonderful journey and some thoughts on the power of picture books and story.
June: I have enjoyed following your journey as a creative and having worked with you also the process by which you work, Helene how does it feel now to have your first ever written and illustrated book?
Helene: For me, writing and illustrating CLAUDETTE, is a new and very exciting adventure that I would like to continue and develop. It has been such a real pleasure of great creativity.
June: What was different about illustrating your own story as opposed to illustrating the stories of others?
Helene: When I illustrate someone else’s manuscript, my role is to complement the text, and of course, I would never infringe on the author’s space at all. Also, the interaction with the author to develop a project via the publisher is always a rich and interesting experience.
The process was quite different when illustrating my own story CLAUDETTE. Being both, author and illustrator, enabled me to have lot of freedom in my creative process. I was free to adjust the text and illustrations as I felt. I was able to freely assert my style (in terms of writing and illustrating) and to be myself more.
June: Where did the idea for Claudette come from and how long had you been thinking about and working on this story?
Helene: I always have been fascinated by the world of puppets. It is another creative and magical way to tell stories. Also, I value the idea of freedom (especially freedom of thoughts)
so using a marionette to talk about freedom was an interesting tool in my opinion.
I kept it on a shelf (just like Claudette in the story) for a while and eventually decided to have a good and last hard work on it in early 2019.
A few years ago, I wrote this story in French quite spontaneously, without the intention to publish it one day. I just wanted to add some new illustrations to my portfolio. And later, my agent encouraged me to work on it and translate it.
Also, as I have a European background, I felt it was interesting to take time to gain a better understanding of the Australian industry.
June: Did it come to you first as pictures, words, or both in combination?
Helene: It really came as a combination. For me writing and illustrating work strongly together. It is fantastic to have the ability to tell a story through images and words. The story can then be developed in both ways simultaneously. I could not separate them.
June: How will launching this book differ from being part of the launches of other books, what do you notice about the differences in the way an illustrator versus an author have to approach the launching of the book?
Helene: This time I have to carry the entire job myself. I have to be creative in both ways, so thankfully, I have the support of Claudette, the real marionette that I have crafted, painted and dressed up just for the occasion. Now she assists me everywhere I go and hopefully she will behave herself. (She will be part of an event coming up in January 2021, so stay tuned.)
June: Helene, can you tell us a bit about when you first had the dream to be an artist and when you knew you would create picture books?
Helene: I know that I was born an artist. I have always been very sensible to everything related to any form of art.
I had some wonderful artistic experience visiting fantastic exhibitions in museums or watching gorgeous shows in different countries all over the world that have inspired me and enriched my imagination and creativity.
But it is when we settled down in Australia, that I decided to become a children’s book illustrator.
I have always loved writing but being a non-native English speaker, I first chose to be an illustrator. And finally, I started to break down language barriers, to eventually follow what I can do with passion.
June: What do you say to others wishing to go into the area of picture books? How do you think they can prepare for this work and what setbacks might they face?
Helene: I would tell others that before they start, try to understand the industry well, how it works, and how to approach a publisher in the right way. Observe, listen, but most importantly read a lot and have a good artistic understanding.
Creating a picture book is a bit like telling a long story just with a few words, and images are here to support in a clever way, with interesting and strong art skills, what the text won’t tell.
Many people think that creating a picture book is easy, but that is absolutely wrong.
June: Can you share a little bit about what it feels like to be a creative raised in so many countries and to now be an Australian creative? How do you think Australia has influenced you? How do you think you will inspire/influence Australian and global readers?
Helene: I have so much to tell on that topic! I feel that all my travels through culturally different countries have really nourished my creativity. What would our world be without all these cultural exchanges and mixes! I think it is necessary to keep a harmonious balance between what we can bring with our cultural background and what we can receive from the country we live in, so that we can be enriched and inspired by both.
It is very interesting and stimulating to be at the intersection of two different cultures. In Europe the picture books can be very poetic, imaginative, magical and even abstract. Some are nourished by legends, fables and fairy tales that have beautifully shaped Europe’s culture for many centuries.
In Australia I have discovered a very contemporary and realistic world in picture books with a strong and unique identity full of charm, so close to nature and diverse as well.
With my European background, I hope I can bring this poetic and whimsical voice in picture books while at the same time having this contemporary style that Australia inspires me.
June: What kind of books would you like to see in the world for future generations? Do you have any dreams and ideas for many more books? What do you think the power of picture books is?
Helene: I would love to see many more books that make children dream and escape reality a bit (reality is already everywhere), books that will enrich the children’s imagination, and enable them to be creative as we will really need more creative people in the future.
Also, I would love to see more bridges being built between countries and cultures. Books make us travel, they open doors to other cultures and other artistic styles. Especially during these times of Covid, books are one of the strongest way to keep an opened mind towards others. They are essential, they are our mental food.
June: Thanks so much for your time and all the best for launching the book.
Helene: Thank you so much for this opportunity. I’d also love to give thanks to the wonderful publisher, Red Paper Kite. They are an exceptional published producing many beautiful books
Book Trailer for Claudette
To purchase this book and also in many local bookstores