April 2011

Hi Paul, I am a Prep teacher and I have been reading the Rascal books to my class over the last few weeks. Wow!! They just love these books. They get mum and dad by the hand and they have to look at the book we have read today. I just love the excitement they have about reading the Rascal books. They are hooked so much so that a little boy in my class 'Jack' wrote a Rascal book. It is called "Rascal and the Numbers". It is fantastic, the story line is similar to yours, it has great illustrations, it was typed up on the computer and then mum used her sewing machine to make it into a book. I would love for you to see it. He presented it at sharing today. We just love your books thank you so much. From the children of Prep R. Thanks Denise
 


December 2010

 
 In England this year they have snow for Christmas, perhaps a little more than they want. We have gum trees, inviting beaches, sunshine (hopefully) and flies. 
 
I’m looking out over the little forest I’ve planted here in Warrnambool. We are having an Open Day on Sunday 20 March next year so that people can come and see how you can turn bare paddocks back into bushland. So far we have had a koala,  three wallabies and a million birds move in.  I've got what I want for Christmas. I hope you do too. 
 
Christmas Cheers and Happy Reading
 
 


September 2010

 

Anecdotes

My friend and editor, Julie Watts suggested that I write a collection of anecdotes based on incidents from my life. 

I have given a lot of thought as to the influences which lead us to live the sort of lives we do.  In the case of children’s authors it seems very likely that our early experiences colour our writing.

So I am choosing events which have left a mark on me and which I think might make interesting reading.  What I will do with these musings I have not yet decided.  Possibly I will make them into a biography or maybe fictionalise them into a novel or maybe just file them in the rubbish bin.  I am hoping that they will throw some light on my stories and the shadowy places from where they have emerged.

I will place one each month below, on this blog section of my website.  Any responses are welcome.

Best wishes

 
 

Coconut Shy


I would have been five years old which by today’s standards is very young to be sent unaccompanied to the local shops to get a haircut.

If I read the incident below in someone else’s biography I would think that it was exaggerated and that the wash-up of the tale is too good to be true. But it did happen just as I have told it – I have not embellished any of it. 

What is interesting to me is not so much the events of the incident but the way I felt about the whole thing. 

People ask me, ‘How can you write for children at your advanced age?’ I always answer, ‘I can remember what it felt like. Today’s children have the same feelings that my generation did - the first day at school, the scary shadow on the wall, the first kiss, the first betrayal, being different, being punished, being lonely. The details may vary but the feelings are still the same.

Good fiction is about feelings. If you can’t access them you can’t write fiction for children – or anyone else for that matter.

*

 My mother tied the money into the corner of my handkerchief and told me that there would be threepence left over. 

‘The change is not your money, Paul. It is my money and we need it. When the barber has finished, pay him and tie the threepence up in the corner of your handkerchief and don’t spend it.’

My mother was not to be trifled with in such matters and I knew that if I spent that threepence a terrible fate would befall me. In fact the world would probably end. To spend that threepence would be a criminal act to put me in company of Hitler and the Nazis who I knew had once dropped bombs on the aerodrome opposite our house. Spending that threepence would enrage my mother and put me beyond any human assistance.

‘And don’t dawdle,’ she said. ‘Come straight home.’

To get to the barber’s shop I had to pass through the nearby park. In the park was a fair with tents and sideshows and dodgem cars and clowns with mouths wide open waiting for table tennis balls to be dropped into their gullets. It was wonderfully entertaining and there were many prizes to be won. I resisted the temptation to linger and hurried on to the barber’s shop from which I emerged, trimmed and clutching threepence in my clammy fist.

I sat down in the barber’s chair. ‘Short back and sides, please,’ I whispered, echoing my mother’s instructions. When he had finished I tied the threepence in my handkerchief as instructed and headed home. But I did ignore one order. 

I dawdled.

On the way back through the park I lingered in front of each stall, finally stopping in front of a coconut-shy. ‘Have a go,’ said a big man. He held out three wooden balls and waved them in my face. Behind him were coconuts perched on sticks like giant golf balls on tees. Behind the targets was a shelf of prizes. ‘Have a go,’ he said again, and then uttered the fateful words. ‘The top prize is ten pounds. You can’t miss.’

Ten pounds! An unimaginable fortune. I had never even touched money worth more than a florin.   And you couldn’t miss. Adults never lied. I could easily give my mother her threepence and keep the rest.

‘How much have you got?’ asked the big man. I held out my hand and he took the threepenny coin and gave me one small, hard wooden ball. I grasped it and retracted my arm, pulling my fist up under my chin. I ejected the ball which fell at my feet with a thud.

‘Good try,’ said the big man. He recovered the ball and put my coin in his pocket.

My head swirled. I could hardly breathe. He had said that I couldn’t miss and my ball had gone nowhere near even reaching the coconuts. He lied. He was a grown up and he lied. And I was dead. History. I would never be forgiven.

‘Fair go,’ said a loud voice behind me. ‘He’s only a little kid.’ I turned to see a bald man and his wife.

‘Robbery,’ spat the woman.

‘Give him another go,’ yelled the man. Other people wandered over, interested.

The coconut- shy attendant quickly gave me another ball. The bald man grabbed me by the shoulder and led me forward until I was standing right in front of the coconuts. I could have reached out and touched one.

‘Hey!’ protested the attendant.

The woman silenced him with a glance.

I threw the ball and knocked the first coconut from its perch.

‘Now give him his prize,’ said the woman in a menacing voice.   The attendant hastily grabbed something from the lowest shelf and gave it to me.

I made my way home with slow, miserable steps clutching a packet of cigarettes in my hand. There was no escaping the fate that awaited me. The threepence was gone. All I had was a packet of cigarettes. You couldn’t even eat them. I finally reached the front gate and my heart sank even lower. My father’s car stood outside on the street. He was home.

I entered and stood before my mother. She inspected my haircut. ‘Could have been shorter,’ she said and held out her hand for the change.

‘It’s gone,’ I said. ‘I threw a ball at a coconut and they gave me this.’

My mother’s silence was dreadful.   It seemed as if it would go on forever. She opened her mouth to speak but my father leapt forward before she could utter a word and snatched up the packet. ‘Fags!’ he yelled. ‘He won a packet of fags. I haven’t had a smoke for weeks. Navy Cut too. Good boy. Well done.’ He patted my head. ‘You are a hero,’ he said. ‘You can’t get fags – they’re still rationed.’

My mother stared at me through eyelids that were almost closed.

But she said nothing. I was saved.


*
I went up to my room and reflected on the whole incident. I knew that the fags had saved me. Without them I would have suffered days of shame and guilt and misery. I was off the hook but it wasn’t right. It was a fluke. Far from feeling that the world was a benevolent place I knew instinctively that it was unpredictable and dangerous and unjust.
 


May 2010

Readers responses are posted below.
 

e is for end – or is it?

Once when I was signing books on author’s tour in Brisbane I noticed four children patiently waiting with their parents for their turn to have their books signed. The children had a similar appearance and were lined up according to height with the older ones going first. The youngest, a boy of about five years old finally reached the front and slid his copy of Rascal The Dragon across the table. I asked him his name and wrote, ‘To Ricky, have fun with Rascal.’ Suddenly he let out a below and pointed an accusing finger at me. ‘That man wrote in my book!’ he screamed to the amusement of the gathered crowd.

I tried hard to suppress a smile. He had obviously been taught not to write in books. But there was more to it than that. His book was something personal and precious. I gave him a free copy of Rascal In Trouble without an inscription. This little boy wasn’t aware of it but in regard to books we felt the same – we both loved not only the story but the special vessel in which it is held. 

I have recently finished reading, The Book Is Dead, Long Live the Book, by Sherman Young who makes a convincing case that the paper book as an object has no future and will soon be replaced by electronic e-books in one form or another. No book shops. No libraries. No groaning shelves in the lounge room. There are many who agree. The recent release of Apple’s iPad has seen long lines of prospective purchasers queuing for hours in New York.

I have to confess that the prospect of the death of the book fills me with gloom. I don’t want it to happen. And I particularly don’t want our children to grow up without books as we know them. Any discussion of the future of books must surely include the effects that their disappearance is likely to have on children. So I was quite surprised to find that Young’s book makes little reference to our youngest readers. 

 I try to visualise a mother or father in bed with their child reading to them from an e-book. Yes, it will happen – there is no doubt that illustrations and the text can be presented in a visually interesting way on a screen. But I can’t help wondering whether the closeness in appearance that an e-book has to a computer or gaming screen is not one of its weaknesses for younger readers. It’s true that e-books will sooner or later have an interactive capacity. I wonder if a child will feel that the static presentation of a book on a screen does not measure up unless it has the same degree of visual excitement as a computer game or a movie?

A book made from paper does not usually create an expectation that it will talk or that the pictures will become active. A traditional story book is an object with pages that will wear and tear and smell and that can be left open on the bed as one nods off to sleep. The fact that a book is not animated is not a disappointment to the child because there is no expectation that it might be. To use an analogy – we are not disappointed that trees don’t walk because we don’t expect locomotion from them. The passivity of books does not disappoint because we know by nature they are inert. And anyway, they have other attributes which we value – beauty, texture and aroma to mention a few. 

It seems to me, that an e-book which is not fully interactive will not be as attractive to a child. This being the case, interactive e-books will quickly dominate the market. If an e-book can be made interactive and the illustrations can be made to move and speak, at what point does it stop becoming a reading activity and start being a cartoon or a game? Electronic books are not new. They were available on computers more than fifteen years ago. The stories could be read or could be listened to – they had the option of words or narration or both. The more successful ones had interactive components related to the illustrations. In my experience most children ignored the written words – they either played the games or listened to the story. Most avoided the reading component.

The pressure to make e-books more interesting by making them interactive has already begun. I have been approached to allow my stories to be used as a basis for ‘applications’ which is the term being used for a downloadable interactive version of a story.

I was recently asked by my publisher if a quotation from my book, The Reading Bug and How You Can Help Your Child Catch It could be used in a joint promotion with the retailer, Dymocks Books. Here is the passage which I was happy to let them use to support the continued use of ‘real’ books.

“Reading aloud with your children gives them an incredibly strong message. Without words you are saying, ‘I am not washing the car or watching the news. I am sitting here with you.’ This act of love forms an association between the child and books. The word ‘book’ brings pleasure. The feel, look and smell of books are forever linked to feelings of warmth, security and love. You have started a lifelong love affair between a child and reading.”

This association of love and pleasure which becomes attached to books should not be undervalued. Well, you might ask, couldn’t children form an attachment to e-books in the same way that they do to paper based book? The answer must be, yes. But do we want our kids to be glued to screens any more than they are already – particularly if they are interactive. And isn’t there a danger that the interactive component which is laid on top of the text might be violent or gratuitous? Publishers, librarians, book councils and schools have good control over stories published in the traditional way but it seems very difficult indeed to control electronic images in interactive activities.

As children grow older the books they read tend to have fewer and fewer illustrations. Illustrations in a picture book give one person’s interpretation of the story. Often they tell half of the story and the text tells the other half. One of their purposes is to act as an aid to the decoding of difficult words. Books with no illustrations don’t give this assistance but they do allow the reader to create a vision of a story in their own head. No drawing can ever equal this. A movie of a popular book is often a disappointment because even Steven Spielberg can’t match the wonder of the personal imagination.

Would we want Huckleberry Finn to have an interactive or animated component? 

I love the feel of the books in my personal library. I still have a copy of, The Old Man and the Sea from when I was in Year Seven at school. My books are old friends. I have designed my house so that I have to walk between the walls of my narrow library to get into the kitchen or lounge. I even have a secret door which is a bookshelf that rolls to one side and opens into the laundry. Guests seem to enjoy browsing my shelves and often borrow a title. I have bought copies of the books I loved as a young child and frequently smile at a memory as I walk past them.

 

I have some support in this view:

‘If you cannot read all your books, at any rate handle, or as it were, fondle them –peer into them, let them fall open where they will, read from the first sentence that arrests they eye, set them back on the shelves with your own hands, arrange them on your own plan so that you at least know where they are. Let them be your friends; let them at any rate be your acquaintances.’

 WINSTON CHURCHILL

My love of books came from the early attachment which I formed on my mother and grandmother’s knees.   This is a situation of love. It would be sad to see it disappear from our children’s bedrooms. A possible consequence of the interactive nature of electronic ‘books’ could be the exclusion of the parent. If an e-book will read itself why are the parents needed? If the interactive games associated with the story are played by the child the parent might as well sneak out of the bedroom to watch Doctor Who on the television. And if this happens the child probably won’t be far behind.

Books make wonderful gifts. Every writer wants their new book to be published in September or October in the run up to Christmas. My royalty cheques come twice a year and the one that covers the period from July – December is always much larger than the one that covers January – June. Books make perfect Christmas presents. Or Birthday presents. They are there on Father’s Day and Mother’s Day. They are a significant gift and although many are expensive there are always bargains to be had. I inevitably smile when I receive a wrapped present and feel the weight of a book inside. I give away a lot of the books I have written myself and it is great to see the pleasure etched on the face of the children who receive them. 

I’m sure that some children will enjoy their parents reading to them from an e-book and that this experience will become part of our culture. But I’m also sure that in the coming years many more will still experience the joy of waking up to find a paper book upside down on the bed, open at the page where they left it when they fell asleep with a smile on their face. If parents choose to start a child’s life with traditional books they will come to value them as something that will stand alongside e-books. And I think parents will make this choice because it is just more fun to run off and retrieve that worn book from its shelf in the same way that it is fun to dig one’s favourite teddy bear out of the toy box. This is a gift that we give our children. 

I can’t imagine my country without trees. I can’t imagine our seas without fish. And I can’t imagine a world without books. I am an optimist - I don’t think we will let any of these things happen. I think e-books have a future. But my feeling is that no one alive today will ever have to say, ‘The book is dead.’

What do you think?

Cheers

Paul Jennings

What do you think?
Readers who would like to have their say about this article can have their comments posted on this web page.  Go to my ‘Contact Us’ page on this web site and please send me an email.
 
Hi Paul, My name is Vicki Stanton and I edit/publish an e-zine for people interested in children's books, Buzz Words(www.buzzwordsmagazine.com). I have just read your blog post 'e is for end - or is it?' (May 2010) and wonder if I could have your permission to reprint the article. I have not come across a better article on the ebooks/physical books debate. Although I publish an e-zine,I too love the feel, smell etc of a 'real book' and have groaning bookshelves. More to the point we are past the groaning shelves - now we are up to the stacks of books on the floor alongside the book case! Thank you for considering my request, Vicki Stanton
 
Hi Paul, I am so totally heartbroken about the possibility of a world without 'real' books. I have an 8 year old son who loves your books and an 11 year old girl who loves Emily Rodda's and Jeanne Birdsall's (among others) books. I was a bookworm as a child (and still am) and I have always read to my children with such love and enthusiasm that my kids have caught the bug. My house is full of books with creased and bent covers - signs of loving wear and tear. I love to see my children's imaginations come alive as we discuss and debate our different points of view of how we have imagined certain scenes in the books we have read together. We laugh at how differently we sometimes see things from each other. E-books would take away all of this precious 'old fashioned but not out-dated' conversation as there would be very little left to the imagination that would be worth discussing. I hope that other parents feel this way also. If there is public demand for paper books, supply will continue. From Lyndy.


April 2010

Hi Everyone 

I have just finished
writing the last Rascal Book – number eighteen. This has been a wonderful collaboration between me and artist, Bob Lea who is a true genius.  His drawings have told their half of each story in a whimsical and magical way.  A true picture book cannot be read on the radio because the illustrations tell so much of the tale.  Bob is a true teller of tales.
 
The Rascal books have had a hidden agenda which is never referred to in the text.  Dad is wishfully hoping that something will happen between him and Sherry, who lives over the road.  In Rascal and Little Flora, Rascal hopes to befriend Little Flora.  His failures and successes are mirrored in the pictures where Dad is on a similar journey. 
A lot of mothers ask me, ‘Is Dad going to have any luck with Sherry?’  Well, I can give you a clue – we'll all see in the last book to be published below.
 
Still to come are:
 Rascal’s Shadow – Publishing date June 2010
 Rascal And The Bad Smell – Publishing date August 2010
 Rascal Bumps His Head – Publishing date February 2011
 Rascal's Big Day – Publishing date April 2011
 
We started off with the aim of writing four Rascal books, so it has been wonderful to have published eighteen.  My sincere thanks to Artist, Bob Lea, Editors, Catherine Mc Credie and Julie Watts and Publisher, Jane Godwin.  What a wonderful journey it has been.

My next project is still hush-hush but I will reveal more as time passes.
 
Cheers
 


February 2010

Hi Everyone
 
I hope you all had a great xmas and new year with your family and friends.  I know many of you travel and have holidays during that period so I hope you all had a safe and enjoyable time and are now looking forward to another school year. 
 
I had a fantastic time with my family and friends and now I've got to get on with writing some new 'Rascal' books.  When I'm finished there will be a total of 18 'Rascal's' for you to enjoy!!
 
I've got two new books being released this month - 'Rascal Runs Away' is an exciting little book about Rascal running off and becoming lost.  Ben is worried he will never see his cute little dragon again - you'll have to read it and see how it ends!!  Also this month a bindup of my four 'Gizmo' stories without pictures (especially for the bigger kids).
 
Hope you enjoy them.
 
Cheers
 


December 2009



Hi Everyone

Congratulations on completing another year of school and I know you are all looking forward to Christmas and the coming summer holidays. 

I hope you and your family all have a really great time and you get some really fantastic pressies left under your tree.

Take care and I’ll talk to you again in 2010.

Cheers



September 2009

 

Hi Everyone

Yippee – Spring is finally here.  It’s my favourite time of the year when the plants start to bloom and my place is abuzz with birds beginning to nest and the sounds of frogs croaking in the wetlands.

I’m also very pleased that the builders have finally finished my new kitchen and study.  They have done a fabulous job, so now I’ll be able to cook restaurant quality meals in my own home (maybe not)!!  The new study overlooks my beautiful native forest and gives me a lot of inspiration for writing new stories. 

My latest book ‘Rascal Play Up’ has just been released into the stores and Penguin Books have decided that Rascal is so popular they want me to write even more books about him!!  So once those books are finished there will be a total of 18 Rascals for you to read!!  The next one is ‘Rascal Runs Away’ and is currently being illustrated by the talented, Bob Lea. He is doing an absolutely wonderful job.  ‘Rascal Runs Away’ will be released in February.   Hope you enjoy it.

Cheers



March 2009

 

Hi Everyone

I’m really really excited as my new book ‘The Nest’ has just been released. 

It’s my first book for older readers (15+) and has taken me four years to write. 
 
It’s about a 16 year old boy who gets unwanted images flashing through his mind and questions about his past haunt him as he searches for clues within himself and his own writing.
 
I’m just leaving Warrnambool to do a series of television and radio interviews about it which I really enjoy doing – but I’ll be back soon. (Check in the 'Events' category for a list of radio broadcasts.)
 
You can read more about ‘The Nest’ in the ‘Books’ section of my website or click on the image below to view the website Penguin Books have created for it.
 
Cheers


February 2009

 

Hi Everyone

I hope you all had a great Christmas and new year break and are now enjoying being back at school for 2009.

I’m really excited as I’ve just received the first copy of my new book, ‘The Nest’  which is due to be released in stores in March. This book has taken me four years to write and is aimed at teenagers and young adults.

I’m also really busy at home as I have the builders at my place putting on an extension, which will give me a new place to work with beautiful views over the bushland around my house. I will be able to hear the native birds calling and watch them as they flit and flutter through their daily lives.

I have also decided to include a new page on my website. This will be called ‘Your page’ and each month I will publish interesting letters and emails from you guys. So keep your eyes open and your email or letter may just be there!!

Cheers



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