Churchill Fellowship Report by Judith Ridge  
The Churchill Trust is an Australian Trust established in 1965, the year in which Sir Winston Churchill died. The principal object of the Trust is to perpetuate and honour the memory of Sir Winston Churchill by the award of Travelling Fellowships known as Churchill Fellowships. A Churchill Fellowship is the provision of financial support to enable ordinary Australians from all walks of life to undertake a period of overseas study, or an investigative project, that cannot be readily undertaken in Australia. To learn more about the Churchill Trust, follow the link on the logo to the right.
I was awarded a Churchill Fellowship in 2001. It was an extraordinary experience; I spent two months in the USA, a month in Ireland and a month in England. The following is my report; links to the various programs I visited will be added soon.


My Churchill fellowship took me to four countries over a four month period, during which I visited over twenty different programs and more than a dozen institutions offering a wide range of reading and writing programs to children and teenagers. Some programs worked with the most disadvantaged young people, while others worked with talented young people already fully involved as critical readers and serious pursuing their interest in writing into their adult lives.
The professionals I met during my Fellowship were without exception hospitable, helpful and as interested in learning about Australian practise in the field of youth literature as I was in gaining the benefits of their experiences. Several of these colleagues offered me accommodation, and I have made life-long friends and professional contacts that will benefit me personally and, I hope, my professional community here in Australia for many years to come.

Project Description

To study innovations in literacy, literature and writing programs for children and adolescents in community and educational institutions in the USA, Ireland and UK.


  • The New England Young Writers’ Conference held in Vermont. This annual conference offers over 200 American teenagers the opportunity to work with professional writers over a four day period.

  • The Centre for the Children’s Book in Newcastle, England, which opens in 2003, will provide one of the world’s best multi-functional centres for the celebration of children’s books.
    The generous staff at the public libraries in Los Angeles, Arlington County, Virginia, and Birmingham, England, demonstrated truly innovative public library programming for young people. Sharon Grover of the Arlington County Library Service kindly offered me accommodation at her home.

  • The importance and effectiveness of access to high quality literary programs for the most disadvantaged youth was confirmed by the LA-based Create Now! and the Chicago program Literature for All of Us.

  • The children’s book community in Ireland were welcoming and generous in their time and hospitality. Children’s book specialist Valerie Coghlan offered me accommodation in her home.

  • The Fellowship gave me many new ideas for programs which I hope to establish for children and youth in NSW over the next few years. I am currently in discussion with possible partners to establish the NSW Young Writers’ Conference, and hope to run a pilot program in 2003.
    Since my return home, I have been invited to speak to public librarians at the State Library of NSW and to the Literature and History Committee of the NSW Ministry for the Arts. I have also written an article on my Fellowship for Viewpoint: On Books for Young Adults (published by University of Melbourne) and have a forth-coming article in the Children’s Book Council of NSW newsletter. I am hoping to travel to WA later in 2002 to address a meeting of public librarians.


San Francisco
When initially researching programs to visit on my Fellowship, many literature and literacy programs for young people existed in San Francisco, however, by the time I undertook my Fellowship, most of these programs had folded. It appears that the focus in this city has switched to adult literacy. Nevertheless, I had invitations to visit the Aurora Elementary School in Oakland, and the BookPALS program, sponsored by the Screen Actors Guild, as well as an archival collection of old and rare children’s books at the San Francisco State University, so my time in San Francisco was well spent.

The Aurora Elementary School is a private parent-run school with a comprehensive program offered to children from a range of socio-economic backgrounds. I visited the school at the invitation of the school’s librarian, Kathy Shepler, who I knew from the online children’s literature community child_lit. Kathy had invited me to share Easter Sunday lunch at her family home, the first of many hospitable invitations I received during the course of my Fellowship.

I spent the day with Kathy in the Aurora Elementary School’s library, reading selections from Australian children’s books to her classes and fielding questions from the children about Australia. The children were endlessly fascinated about Australia, particularly about our native animals and remarkable environment. It was fairly clear that the children didn’t know much about Australia beyond these aspects — and I found this was true of children in each country I visited. They were surprised by the physical size of our country and its relatively small population. Many children had also seen the Olympics, and Steve Irwin the crocodile hunter, who is very popular in the US, and so had a fairly skewed view of Australia — we’re all fast swimmers and in imminent danger of being eaten alive by spiders and other "biteys".

Kathy was pleasantly surprised to find how many Australian books she had in the library’s collection, many of which she hadn’t realised were Australian books. As at each of the schools I visited on my Fellowship, I donated a copy of the Steve Parish book Amazing Facts About Australia to the school library. Hopefully, the book will dispel some of the myths about Australia that the children held to be true. Since I returned home, I’ve stayed in touch with Kathy and helped her find more Australian books for her library. Greater dissemination of Australian books to international readers young and old will go a long way to better inform them of the diversity of the Australian experience.

I also visited the Rooftop School with Tracy Heffernan, the coordinator for the San Francisco areas BookPALS program. BookPALS was established in 1993 and is a sponsored program of the Screen Actors Guild Foundation. BookPALS is founded on a very clear premise: children must be exposed to the magic of books to develop a love of reading. To that end, BookPALS sends over 1800 volunteer professional actors to read aloud to children at public elementary (primary) schools in at-risk neighbourhoods across the USA, helping introduce them to the world of reading and literacy. Over 900 US schools are involved, targeting 40,000 students annually.

Tracy’s own children attend the Rooftop School, which while in an economically disadvantaged area is strongly supported by its local and parent community, and is clearly a vibrant, positive place for children to be. Tracy visits the school weekly, spending time with various classes reading to them. The intention of the program is to introduce the concept of reading for pleasure to children at a very young age, and from witnessing Tracy in action with the children, it is clearly having the desired impact. The children were receptive and enthusiastic, and confident in speaking to and asking questions of a stranger — me! I also read to Tracy’s BookPALS classes from Magabala Books’ award winning children’s book Tjarany: Roughtail. The universal appeal of traditional tales was clearly demonstrated by the children’s reactions to the stories read to them.
BookPALS is an excellent demonstration of how a non-education-based group — in this case, professional actors — can work to support the literacy needs of children. Not all literacy support programs need to come from educational groups, although clearly the support of individual schools for the program is essential to its success. Having a professional actor, who is not seen as a teacher or authority figure, coming in to the school to share the joys of reading supports the idea of reading for pleasure, rather than it being a purely educational activity.

While in San Francisco I was also fortunate enough to visit the Marguerite Archer Collection of old and rare children’s books, curated by Meredith Eliassen at held the San Francisco State University. The Marguerite Archer Collection of Historic Children's Literature contains a variety of books and other materials associated with childhood, such as toys, and covers the important trends in children's literature from 1776 to the present day. The collection is fascinating to anyone with an interest in childhood and specifically children’s literature. I am hoping to donate some significant Australian children’s books to the collection.

Los Angeles
I spent several days with the staff of the LA Public Library (LAPL). The staff were welcoming and generous with their time and expertise, and showed great interest in Australian children’s literature and the work we do with young readers and writers in Australia.

The central library of the LAPL is in downtown La and there are around 70 branches throughout the Los Angeles area. The LAPL places a great deal of emphasis on programs to improve literacy in children and adults. LA has the highest illiteracy levels in the USA. In downtown LA, 65% of the adult population is in the lowest level of proficiency, with 23% in the next level. The problem is chronic, and yet the staff of the LAPL were unfailingly determined and optimistic about the progress they were making in improving child and adult literacy. Their programs, such as "Wild About Reading", in association with the LA Zoo, "Read LA" and "Grandparents and Books", which trains senior citizens to be readers and storytellers in the children’s sections of public libraries, are designed to encourage the literacy skills of all members of the community.

I attended a training session of "Grandparents and Books", where library staff gave volunteer senior citizens guidance in reading to and with children. The "Grandparents" have a regular schedule at one of the branch libraries, so that the children get to know "their" Grandparent, and so feel comfortable and confident with them. The Library has also discovered that in libraries in more affluent areas of LA, children’s carers and nannies, many of who have little or no English, benefit from the storytelling and reading sessions. "Grandparents and Books" has wide-reaching benefits, not just for improving literacy, its key focus, but in encouraging cross-generational and cross-cultural understanding.

The Central Branch of the LAPL is itself a wonderfully welcoming place for young readers. Its children’s room is bigger in floor space and in the size of its collection than most Australian public libraries are in total — the Children’s Literature Department, as the children’s section is known, holds around 250,000 books. The Children’s Literature Department is an older wing of the library and boasts beautiful California History Murals by the internationally recognized artist Albert Herter — it is a most beautiful and inspiring environment for young readers. The Department is a comprehensive resource collection emphasising history and criticism of children’s literature, fiction, picture books, poetry, fairytales, biographies, and Native American, Pacific Rim and California literature. Audio tapes, videos and a large body of materials in Spanish help to make the Children’s Literature Department relevant to the ten million citizens living in the greater Los Angeles area.
Locally, the Department serves as a library for the downtown LA community with the librarians making school visits, providing homework help and working with teachers on curriculum assignments. Children are invited to join the Reading Clubs that are formed throughout the year. Six times a week students are welcomed from all over Los Angeles for a field trip adventure that includes a tour of the historic Los Angeles Public Library building and a story time in the KLOS Story Theatre, situated in the Children’s Literature Department. Many more teachers bring their pupils on informal visits so that children can get library cards, check out books, and use the Ronald McDonald Multimedia Centre.

The LA Central Library also boasts an innovative centre for teenagers called teen’scape. teen'scape was designed in consultation with Los Angeles area teenagers and gives them a place of their own to work on computers, hang out, study, or read. The name "teen’scape" is meant to convey both sanctuary for and ownership by teenagers.

teen’scape enjoys a large book collection coupled with cutting edge technology. The department has an enormous collection of young-adult non-fiction, comic books, popular paperbacks, study aides, college and career guides, and classic literature. Each month new magazines are added to the collection from over 150 magazine subscriptions. It has a bank of computers dedicated for internet usage, another for word processing and homework, study rooms and a lounge area with a huge screen TV and music system. teen'scape also has hundreds of videos and thousands of compact discs available for loan.

Both teen’scape and the Children’s Literature Department are models of children’s and young adult library services in a city that values literacy highly. Although Australian libraries do not have the budget of the LA Public Library system, libraries here could benefit greatly from studying the innovative services provided by this library.

Patricia Smart of the LA Times Literacy Network was welcoming and helpful in providing information about literacy programs in the LA area. The Literacy Network, which is supported at a high level by both government and business groups, provides information about the circa 250 literacy programs available in over 500 locations in the LA area. These statistics reflect the scale of the literacy problem in LA, and the scale of the efforts to address the problem. The Network publishes a directory of literacy services and coordinates an annual Literacy in Media award. During my stay in LA, I attended the LA Times Festival of Books, where I volunteered on the Literacy Network’s stand. It was a great opportunity to meet and chat with teachers and others involved with literacy, and to get some insights into the work done at the coalface with children and adults.

I also had an opportunity at the Festival of Books to meet with Brein Lopez, the curator of Every Picture Tells a Story, a Children’s Book Art Gallery, and to view some of the artworks held by the Gallery. I was unable to visit the gallery itself due to a combination of LA’s poor public transport and a heavy cold I caught while in San Francisco which saw me in bed most afternoons and evenings of the week I was in LA, after returning home from visiting the LAPL and other programs. Brein expressed a high regard for Australian illustrators of children’s books, and I hope to pursue this contact for possible future joint programs.

In contrast to the many well-funded programs I visited during my Fellowship was Create Now! Create Now! was established by one woman in response to the needs she perceived in her community. Jill Gurr had worked in the film and television industries in Hollywood for many years as an editor, writer and producer. She was well aware of the difficult circumstances many young people in the LA area live in, and felt that she wanted to make a difference, and that she had the skills and contacts to do so.

Create Now!, originally called Write Now! was founded in 1996 and its mission is to provide creative arts mentoring to institutionalised at-risk children and youths, ages 2 to 21, who have been abused, neglected, abandoned or are involved in the juvenile justice system. There are over 125,000 children who are taken from their homes per year in Los Angeles, because of abuse, neglect and abandonment. Many of these children end up in the juvenile and then adult justice systems. Create Now! provides a variety of creative arts mentoring programs to thousands of these youngsters who live in more than 50 different court-ordered residential care facilities.

Through different types of writing, such as screenwriting, TV sit-com writing, poetry, short stories and plays, and other creative arts such as painting, music, dance, video production, the young people involved in Create Now! learn to express themselves in a positive manner that can be shared with others. Professional writers, artists, photographers, musicians, dancers, filmmakers and other creative individuals volunteer as mentors. They encourage English skills, cooperation, self-discipline, accountability and self-respect. The programs clearly work to enhance the children's skills, develop self-esteem, confidence and teamwork, as I witnessed when I spent a morning at a Create Now! workshop.

The young people involved in the program I visited were living in a residential home for gay, lesbian and transgender teenagers who had been kicked out of home because of their sexuality. These are precisely the kinds of youth who are at high risk of becoming totally alienated from society, and of losing all self-esteem. Yet the young people I met were confident, proud, articulate and energetic — no doubt because of the good work done by their carers, but also in no small part because of their participation in a workshop coordinated on their behalf by Create Now! The group — who were keen to chat to me about their lives, their enjoyment of the Create Now! program, and to educate me about their sexuality! — were involved in writing and creating a film about their experience of life, working with a team made up of a professional scriptwriter and a filmmaker.

Jill Gurr now manages Create Now! full time, and she does so with little substantial funding. All her mentors are volunteers, but the programs nevertheless cost a considerable amount to run. Word of mouth and the generosity of individuals currently sustain Create Now!, although Jill is aware that as the program continues to grow, a broader base of funding will need to be sought.

They key lesson to be learnt from programs such as Create Now! (and Literature for All of Us in Chicago, discussed later) is how critical creative arts and, specifically, writing programs can be for young people at risk and young people living in deeply disadvantaged circumstances. At the most fundamental level, such programs assist these young people to maintain and improve their literacy. Beyond that, however, the opportunity to speak and be heard, to have a voice, to express their feelings and their views and their creativity is enormously important for their self esteem and their confidence. The mentors they work with open a world of creative and professional opportunities to these young people — several youth who have participated in Create Now! programs have had genuine professional opportunities offered to them; for example, one young woman had a filmscript optioned by a film production company, a young man in detention was offered a music contract. These are, of course, the "star" examples; what should be emphasised is that all the young people involved in Create Now! and similar programs benefit in critically important yet sometimes intangible ways.

New Orleans

In New Orleans I attended the International Reading Association (IRA) Conference. The conference was a wonderful opportunity to meet colleagues in the community arts, teaching, library, writing and publishing communities. I attended many wonderful panels and talks given by US writers who I have long admired but have had no opportunity to hear speak about their work. It also gave me the opportunity to learn about new writers and books. I collected a great deal of material at the conference which is proving to be an important addition to my professional library of resource material on matters associated with youth arts programming, teaching, libraries and children’s literature and publishing. I would recommend to any future Fellows undertaking a Fellowship comparable to mine to budget generously for sending home large quantities of print material!

Virginia/Washington DC/Maryland
After the IRA conference I was welcomed into the home of Sharon Grover, Youth Services Collection Specialist at the Arlington County Library in Virginia. I stayed with Sharon and her family for ten days, and having home comforts for this period of time was a welcome relief after a month staying in hotels and hostels. In addition to her duties at the Arlington County Library, Sharon chairs Capitol Choices, a committee which prepares an annual list of books of excellence for children and teenagers. She was also at the time a member of the judging panel for the Caldecott Medal, the USA’s prestigious picture book award. Staying with Sharon afforded me the opportunity to gain an insight into the judging process of the Caldecott Medal and to read a wide range of US picture books.

The Arlington County Library has dedicated spaces for the children’s collection and the young adult collection, with specialist staff and targeted programs for the two client groups. The children’s and youth services collections, under the guidance of Sharon Grover, are expanding the multi-cultural and bi-lingual materials in the collection to reflect the changing demographics of their community. I attended several storytelling and craft sessions in the children’s library, including a bi-lingual storytelling session for the growing Hispanic population.

The young adult staff were preparing for the up-coming summer holidays and their summer reading program; many libraries in the US organise activities and reading lists for the long summer holiday break. The Arlington County Library is dedicated to involving young adults as much as possible in their library; high school students volunteer in the library after school, assisting with shelving and other duties. Most significantly, however, is the Teen Advisory Board, coordinated by Sharon and other library staff in cooperation with local middle schools (roughly equivalent to Australian Years 5-8).

Teen Advisory Boards (TAB) operate in many libraries across the USA, with the Arlington County Library’s TAB considered as one of the country’s premier examples. The philosophy of the TAB is to involve the clients of the young adult library in the selection and peer recommendation of books in the collection. TAB reading groups are organised in the local schools, and library staff visit these groups and facilitate the discussion of books. Towards the end of the school year, each TAB reading group nominate their favourite books, and the most popular are labelled as TAB Selections. Readers in the library thus know that these books are recommended by their peers.

Funding for the program comes from both the Friends of the Arlington County Library and from the participating schools; both groups contribute $3000. This money goes to purchase multiple copies of titles selected by the library staff from the nominations for the American Library Association’s Best Books for Young Adults. Books for TAB reading groups are also selected from review copies sent by publishers, and students frequently nominate other titles as well. While the purpose of the Tab is to select new titles to add to the library’s collection, students are not deterred from discussing "old" books they are enthusiastic about.
I had the great pleasure of attending a TAB reading group on the day they were making their final votes of the books they had read over the previous school year. The students took the voting process very seriously, and clearly appreciated the opportunity to actively contribute to their library’s collection. They also enjoyed my Australian accent and the opportunity to taste Vegemite!

Sharon and I travelled into Maryland where we addressed a group of Library Science students from the University of Maryland. I spoke to them about library services in Australia, with a focus on children’s and youth services. Although not a librarian myself, I have worked closely with children’s and youth services librarians during my time working on the NESTLÉ Write Around Australia program at the State Library of NSW. It was an important opportunity to exchange ideas and information about Australian libraries with US practitioners.

The Arlington, Virginia is very close to Washington DC. I met with Jane Gilchrist of the Library of Congress’ Children’s Literature Collection. Jane gave me both an overview of the Collection, an important historical collection of USA children’s literature, and a personal guided tour of the Library of Congress, including some areas not open to the general public such as the Congressman’s Reading Room.

I also spent half a day in the Oyster Bi-lingual School, the only bi-lingual elementary school in Washington DC. I was welcomed into a third grade classroom where I read Australian children’s picture books, including Possum Magic and selections from Tjarany: Roughtail. I also had the opportunity to meet with executive staff from the school and exchanged information about literacy and reading programs in Australian and US schools. Like the schools I visited in California, the Oyster Bi-lingual School is very much a family and community-driven school, and programs are designed to meet the specific needs of the community and is highly regarded as giving unique educational opportunities to its students. Just prior to my visit to the school, it was featured on local news programs when parents camped overnight in the schoolyard in order to enrol their out-of-area children for the forthcoming new school year.

The next stop was Vermont and the New England Young Writers’ Conference. Prior to the Conference, I was the guest for two nights in the home of Elizabeth Bluemle, the owner of the Flying Pig Children’s Bookshop in Charlotte, Vermont. Although situated in a small community, the Flying Pig bookshop is an extremely successful business, due to Elizabeth’s broad knowledge of children’s literature and the personal service she offers. It was another wonderful opportunity for me to spend time with a colleague and share our enthusiasm for children’s literature.

Flying Pig Books

The New England Young Writers’ Conference was one of the highlights of my Fellowship. The Conference has been running for 18 years, and is a four-day residential college for high school students in their Sophomore and Junior years — roughly the equivalent of our Years 10 and 11. The Conference is held at the Bread Loaf Campus of Middlebury College, which also plays host to a highly regarded writer’s conference for adults. Indeed, it was the long-standing success of the conference for adult writers that inspired high school English teachers from Vermont to establish the Young Writers’ Conference. Middlebury College supplies the venue free of charge to the Conference, the benefit to the College being that they may as a result attract applications to attend Middlebury College from students at the Conference.

Approximately 240 students attend the Conference. The students submit samples of their writing and a letter of recommendation from their English teacher in order to be selected to attend the Conference. Students from the Vermont schools involved in organising the Conference make up the selection committee. This peer assessment is an interesting feature of the Conference, and I must admit to being somewhat surprised that there were no adults involved in the process. This raised some issues for the organisers after a worrying incident on the final night of the Conference, which I will discuss later in this report.

The students selected to attend the Conference are gifted writers, and very serious about their writing. They nominate either prose or poetry as their preferred genre, and are organised into groups of about 12-15. Each morning, they work with the professional, published author allocated to their group, workshopping their writing. Students have some one-on-one time with their author during the course of the Conference. In the afternoons, students choose elective sessions on specific aspects of writing, such as "Writing Dialogue", "Creating Setting" and so on. Social activities are organised for the evening sessions, and students also have the opportunity to read their work at Open Mike and Poetry Slam sessions in the main auditorium.
Selected teachers also attend the Conference as chaperones and have the opportunity to attend their own writing workshops. Teachers also attend the elective sessions in the afternoon, learning side by side with the students. The Conference thus becomes a unique personal and professional development opportunity for teachers.

I acted as a chaperone to a group of wonderful young women, all from different states and schools. These young women quickly developed supportive friendships and enjoyed sharing their writing with each other and with me. We remain in occasional email contact, and it’s been a pleasure to hear about their plans for college and their future in the long term.

The aspect of the conference I admired most was that it was entirely set up to be for the benefit of the students. There was no disciplinary atmosphere, and no sense of anxiety about where the students were or what they were up to. As adults, we were hands off, unless asked to be otherwise, and we basically didn’t intrude on the students’ experience at all. It was for them and about them, and they respected that and there were no behavioural problems. The site of the Breadloaf Campus also contributed to this: the Campus is quite remote, and short of driving off site, which would become immediately obvious, there is nowhere for the students to go.

However, there was one unpleasant incident which for me showed up a real difference between the American and Australian experience. As I travelled around the States and worked with people who work with young people, I quickly came to realise how fundamental the Columbine High shootings has become to the American psyche. They now know that chaos and murder can happen in their schools in a way that we in Australia don’t know — at least, not from experience. The Columbine shootings are never far from teachers’ minds when any incident of conflict occurs.

At the open reading on the final night of the conference, the first reader was a young black man who announced that something had happened that defied the whole reason for the conference. First, he was going to read a poem he’d previously written, and was then going to read something he’d written in response to the incident. The first poem was a love poem; the second an angry rap about a racist comment he said he’d heard after he left his dorm room. The rap was unpolished to say the least, and descended into an angry diatribe in which he called the white boys "faggots" and made fairly overt threats to them.

It was a small group in the open readings that night; most of the students were attending a performance of African dance in the other venue and there were only two or three adults in the open mic audience. I was disturbed and unsettled by the performance, but didn’t feel the need to report it, or take it as a serious threat. I took it as angry posturing, and thought he’d have made his point better if he hadn’t retaliated to racism by calling the boys "faggots" — my dorm girls who were there also commented on this later.

However, it quickly became clear that the organisers of the conference took the incident extremely seriously indeed. The possibility that something serious could have happened was a very real one to them. The boy could easily have had a gun, how would they know? There were over 200 students at the conference, and a number of them drove themselves there. The students accused of making the comments were extremely frightened (they claimed that they had been misheard and misunderstood). The incident made some of the organisers question everything about the organisation of the Conference, especially the peer selection of students. Potential litigation was discussed, should the incident have played itself out to a violent end. After seventeen years without incident, it was a serious and frightening matter for them to confront.

It’s worth mentioning that the Conference was notable for its lack of ethnic diversity. There were few African American, Asian or Hispanic students evident in the student population. The Conference organisers are very aware of this, but were unsure how to address it; questions of tokenism and merit were raised when the issue was discussed.

One of the organisers said that the entire Conference would be tainted for him by this incident. It certainly wasn’t for me. I have inspiring and happy memories of the Conference, and have been exploring ways of establishing a "sister" conference here in Australia. I have felt strongly for some time that we do not do enough for gifted writers in their high school years. There are many opportunities for primary school aged writers to pursue their interest, but secondary school aged writers frequently complain that there are few creative writing workshops and competitions and the like for them. Within schools, curriculum demands take over, and many community arts groups are uncertain how to attract young adults to their programs. Yet it is during these years that young writers most need support, both creatively and vocationally. I hope that if I am successful in establishing an Australian Young Writers’ Conference that it will become an important vehicle for supporting and developing young Australian writers.

If a girl falls pregnant in her teenage years, it will take her until she is 30 to make up for her lost educational opportunities. If she has more than one child, she may never make up the lost ground. It was this fact that encouraged Karen Thompson, a professional book group coordinator, to establish "Literature for All of Us". "Literature for All of Us" coordinates reading groups and writing workshops for pregnant girls and teenage mothers. Nearly all of the girls involved are either African American or Hispanic, and attend one of the three Chicago middle or high schools for pregnant and parenting teens, or are doing their high school equivalence certificate through other educational institutions.

The books read by the girls in the program are chosen by the group’s leader, and the girls keep the books bought for them. As they gain their confidence, the young women start asking for titles they’ve heard their peers talk about — a memoir of an abused childhood, A Child Called It, by Dave Pelzer, was in demand at one group I visited. The books and poetry chosen are frequently by women writers of African American and Hispanic heritage, a conscious decision to present to the young women writing that include settings, language, themes and experiences that relate to their lives.

The poetry these young women write in response to ideas generated by the books or poems their group leader brings in to share with them were as impressive and moving, if not as polished, as work I’ve read by more privileged writers of their age. Each group has an anthology of their writing published at the end of the school year.

The program is also having a very real impact on the literacy of the children of the participants. Picture books for young children are read within the group, and as they are allowed to keep the books chosen for themselves, the young women also take home the picture books to share with their babies. Group leaders incorporate parenting discussions into the book groups, discussing issues such as how and where you read to your baby.

Karen Thompson has been extremely successful in attracting high levels of funding and private and corporate donations to support "Literature for All of Us". The program employs several full-time staff, and the level of funding allows the young women to keep the books purchased for their book group, and also provides for the publication of anthologies of their writing. Since I visited the program, it has expanded to include new programs such as the "Book Sister" mentorship program. A number of other community groups are now using the "Literature for All of Us" model to set up literacy programs to meet the particular needs of their own communities. There is no doubt that it can similarly provide an excellent model for Australian educational and community groups to develop programs to support the literacy and creativity of our most disadvantaged youth. Its philosophy of self-empowerment through literacy and creative expression is certainly one that applies across national and cultural boundaries.

New York/New Jersey/Boston

During my time in New York, with side trips to New Jersey and Boston, I took up the opportunity to meet with colleagues from the publishing and academic sides of children’s literature, as well as visiting two impressive programs for young people. I also visited The Dalton School on Manhattan’s upper east side, and met with a group of grade 4 students.

In New York, I met with Tim Ditlow, the publisher at The Listening Library, publisher of children’s books on audio, David Gale, a senior editor of children’s books at Simon and Schuster, and Marc Aronson, publisher of innovative children’s and young adult books at Cricket Books. It was a wonderful opportunity to meet with colleagues from the publishing industry and share ideas and opinions on children’s publishing.

I took an overnight trip to Boston and met with Roger Sutton, publisher of The Horn Book. The Horn Book is the leading children’s literature review journal in the US. I have long admired Roger’s strong editorial stand on important issues relating to children’s literature, and it was a pleasure to meet with him in person. Roger had read some of the articles I have published in Australian journals, and asked me to write on Australian children’s books for The Horn Book. My first article will be published in November 2002.

Roger and I had dinner with Susan Bloom and Cathryn Mercier from the post graduate Children’s Literature program at Simmons College in Boston, a highly regarded program in academic circles. It was a great pleasure to meet with these colleagues and to share an entertaining evening swapping stories and sharing discussion of favourite books.

For the past few years I have been a member of child_lit, an online community dedicated to discussion of children’s literature and related educational issues. I met several fellow child_lit members while in New York, including the listserv’s coordinator, Michael Joseph. I also went out to Rutgers University in New Jersey, where Michael is on the academic staff, and had lunch with Kay Vandergrift, Director of the Information Technology & Informatics Program of the School of Communication, Information and Library Studies. Kay teaches children’s literature to library science students, and it is under the auspices of her school that the university hosts child_lit.

Back in New York, I also spent quite a bit of time with Monica Edinger, a wonderful 4th grade teacher I’d met on child_lit. I visited Monica at The Dalton School, a private school on the upper east side where she has taught 4th Grade for over ten years. Monica has special interests in the use of literature in the classroom and in the teaching of history and the place of historical fiction. I was able to see at first hand the creative results of her teaching, and had a wonderful afternoon reading to and chatting with her students about Australia. Monica and I also spent a wonderful Sunday exploring her neighbourhood in the West Village, including several hours browsing in The Bank St Bookshop, a superb children’s bookshop attached to Bank St teacher education college.

A sample of Monica’s student’s work in the English curriculum can be seen at:

I also spent time at two organisations offering writing opportunities to young people, Young Playwrights Inc and Teachers and Writers Collaborative.
Young Playwrights Inc was established by Stephen Sondheim twenty years ago. Its mission statement is to:

1. identify and develop playwrights aged 18 or younger, involving them as active participants in the highest quality professional productions of their plays;
2. develop new work for the stage;
3. insure that young theatre artists are heard and acknowledged by theatregoers and by the profession;
4. promote the arts in basic education by facilitating the integration of playwriting into the curriculum;
5. serve as an advocate for youth regardless of gender, race, physical or economic ability, or sexual orientation.

Young Playwrights Inc. offers writing workshops, including a conference and an "urban retreat", which involves young people coming from all over the USA to a residential week in New York, where they attend workshops and a variety of theatrical performances. A creative writing competition attracts around 1500 entries each year, and winners of this competition have their play professionally produced off-Broadway in New York, an extraordinary opportunity for young writers. The organisation also offers teacher in-servicing on the art of playwrighting.

I was impressed with the high professional standards of Young Playwrights Inc. Its success with young writers is evident, and the range of opportunities it offers within a single genre of writing is admirable. It provides an excellent model of the professional management of a youth arts organisation.

Teachers and Writers Collaborative, a non-profit organization, was founded in 1967 by a group of writers and educators who believed that writers could make a unique contribution to the teaching of writing. T&W brings writers and educators together in collaborations that explore the connections between writing and reading literature and that generate new ideas and materials. T&W writers' diaries, as well as articles from other writers and teachers from around the country, are the source of T&W publications. T&W publishes a bimonthly magazine and books, distributed through the 200,000 catalogues they mail to writers and educators each year.

The day I visited the T&W offices a group of authors were meeting with T&W staff to discuss their involvement in the forthcoming summer schools program in District 75. District 75 is the New York public school district for children with learning and/or emotional disabilities. The authors shared their experience of the T&W program. Some of them had worked in District 75 before, and had excellent advice for their colleagues on the sorts of strategies that had worked for them to meet the specific needs of the children. Others were completely new recruits to the T&W program, and were keen to learn from their more experienced colleagues. Participating in this group was most inspiring, and I felt the opportunity for the authors to share their ideas and experiences was most important.

A feature of T&W that impressed me is that it offers programs that targets students with particular needs in a way that we do not do here in Australia. Writing workshops have been devised for students who are considered "at risk" and/or likely to drop out of school. Another program is offered for deaf students. There are bi-lingual, special education and gifted and talented program available. T&W also works with mainstream kids in mainstream schools, and offers after school writing groups for interested young people.
Another impressive feature of the T&W program is the variety of writing workshops it offers. Not limited to the writing of fiction, as is often the case with author-in-schools programs, T&W offers workshops in areas such as:

* Poetry, fiction, and playwriting
* The literary and personal essay
* Memoir and journal writing
* Multicultural literature and writing
* Whole language learning
* Theatre improvisation for problem solving and conflict resolution
* Content-area writing (eg. social studies, ecology, the sciences)
* Children's literature
* Inter-generational writing projects
* Journalism

T&W also hosts a season of readings by published and unpublished writers, and coordinates a literary radio program on a local New York community radio station. Like many of the programs I visited, T&W incorporates a teacher in-service component. T&W also has an extensive publishing program, with a wide range of books published on different aspects of writing. Since returning to Australia, I have found some of the T&W books extremely useful in teaching creative writing to a group of Year 9 students while undertaking a teaching block early in 2002.

T&W is a superb model of colleagues working together across professions to bring the best educational and creative experience to young people. There is much about their workshop program and organisational structure that Australian youth arts organisations could benefit from.

My final morning in New York was spent at the Brooklyn Public Library. Susan Raboy, manager of Young Adult Services at the library showed me around their wonderful children’s and youth spaces in the library. Recently renovated, the library has been extremely creative in making the most of their limited space. A technology centre for teenagers was constructed as a "second floor" within the existing library space. A kind of loft construction houses bank upon bank of iMacs, available to young users of the library for research and homework use.

I visited the library during their summer reading program. The library foyer was full of young children involved in craft activities, while within the children’s area, groups of children sat chatting with authors and storytellers, learning about the craft of writing. It is clearly a vibrant, inviting library deeply committed to offering wonderful services to its young clients, and my visit was a fitting and joyful conclusion to my time in the USA.

In Ireland, I was welcomed into the home of Valerie and Rex Coghlan for the month I was in the country. Valerie is Librarian at the Church of Ireland College of Education and is one of Ireland’s leading specialists in children’s literature. Valerie was instrumental in setting up Children’s Books Ireland, an organisation promoting Irish children’s books comparable in function and philosophy to the Children’s Book Council of Australia.

I was fascinated to discover that few Irish schools have a dedicated library space, and there are few teacher-librarians as we understand them. Most schools rely on an enthusiastic teacher or parent volunteer to oversee their small collection, which is likely to be housed in a spare classroom. In her role as Librarian at the College, Valerie regularly runs workshops and seminars to inform these voluntary librarians about issues to do with library management and information science, and about children’s books. Valerie held one such seminar while I was in Dublin, and she invited me to speak to her students about Australian children’s books. It was a great opportunity to promote Australian children’s books.

I also had the opportunity to visit a primary school in Dublin, and fielded more questions about deadly Australian animals. One young girl asked a particularly interesting question: Did Australian children learn in Aboriginal English as well as English? This question arose because all Irish children learn bi-lingually, in English and Irish. The question made me somewhat sad, because although Australian children have access to excellent education about Aboriginal Australia, as we know, few Indigenous languages still exist. In this direct connection with their original language and culture, Irish children have a wonderful advantage over many other children the world over.

Dublin is home to The Ark Children's Cultural Centre. Opened in 1995, The Ark is situated in Dublin’s lively Temple Bar arts and entertainment district, and is Europe’s only custom-designed children’s art centre. It is dedicated to cultural work for, by, with and about children and it attracts around 30,000 children and 5000 adults through its doors each year. The Ark, which has received major sponsorship money and European Union funding, contains a 150 seat theatre, an amphitheatre, gallery space and large workshop studio. Its philosophy can be summed up as follows: "In The Ark, children are makers and doers, as well as lookers and listeners." The Ark offers programs across many art forms: literature, theatre, music, storytelling, fine art and sculpture. It also features an impressive outreach program working with children in public housing and rural children, to ensure that young people from all backgrounds can benefit from the work of the centre.
The program on offer during my time in Dublin was called "Bless the Beasts". This program had print making (an exhibition of Picasso animal prints) and sculpture as its focus. The centre employed a sculptor to work with groups of children creating "beasts" out of found objects; scrap metal, car and computer parts; if it was industrial rubbish, you could make a creature out of it. Observing a group of Year 4 students watch a practising artist, who was very skilled at demonstrating his craft to the young audience, and then put into practise some of the techniques he showed them as they built their own "beasts", was a delightful experience. At the end of the program, the child-built sculptures were to be exhibited in the amphitheatre behind The Ark.
It is unlikely, sadly, that the kind of funding required to establish a splendid children’s cultural centre like The Ark will be found in Australia. However, visiting The Ark reminded me how lacking we are in NSW, and perhaps in the rest of Australia, in centres that focus on children’s participation in the arts. The Ark, and many other programs and arts centres I visited on my Fellowship, renewed my determination to find new ways of bringing quality arts experiences to young Australians.

I attended the European Reading Association Conference held by the Reading Association of Ireland and gave a paper on Indigenous writers of Australian children’s books, which was extremely well received. This conference, and my meetings with Clare Ransom, director of Children’s Books Ireland, enabled me to meet many Irish children’s authors and the key Irish children’s publisher, Michael O’Brien of O’Brien Press. These meetings will evolve in the future to develop an Irish-Australian network of children’s literature professionals. In particular, I am now representing O’Brien Press’s children’s books to Australian publishers for local rights, and will be hosting Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick, an award-winning author/illustrator, during her forthcoming professional visit to Australia.

As I commented in an article I wrote for "Children’s Books in Ireland", Ireland’s leading children’s literature review journal, during my stay in Dublin, there are many similarities between the Irish and Australian children’s literature communities, both culturally and in terms of the publishing industry. Australia and Ireland are both smallish countries population-wise, and our publishing industries are locally strong, but not particularly significant internationally. We’ve also got a common history with Britain, and Irish children — like Australian children — for many decades found the bulk of their reading made up of English and US titles. Accordingly, one of the great similarities I found is that both countries produce books for young readers that are unashamedly Irish, or Australian, without being twee or relying on national stereotypes or being overly jingoistic.

One of the most marked differences in the kinds of books Ireland and Australia publish for young people is a reflection of the strikingly different make-up of the Australian versus the Irish population. Australia is a far more multi-cultural society than Ireland, and our books reflect this aspect of Australian life as a matter of course. It will be interesting to observe whether or perhaps, rather, how Irish books begin to encompass the changing nature of Irish society as more immigrants and asylum seekers arrive.

England and Scotland
The key organisations I visited in the UK were Education Extra, the Birmingham City Library, the Centre for the Children’s Book in Newcastle, England and The Scottish Book Trust.
Education Extra, based in London but operating throughout England, provides advice, resources, information and support about out-of-school-hours learning. Education Extra’s purpose is to enable schools to work with pupils, their families and the wider community to build an environment in which learning is extended beyond the formal school day, which encourages new ways of teaching and learning and which reflects the diversity of people's interests and needs.

The program I was most interested in was Education Extra’s Reading Clubs. Education Extra has been helping schools to run successful reading clubs for the last five years. A recent report into 100 clubs showed that most children involved increased their reading age over the year, developed much more enthusiastic reading habits, greater self esteem and displayed better behaviour both in the club and in conventional class lessons.
Education Extra has been successful in forging strong relationships with major publishing partners, including Puffin, Bloomsbury, Random House, Orion, Faber and Faber, and is thus able to offer schools substantial book discounts to support the reading groups. In addition, Education Extra offers club organisers telephone and email support, a schedule of excellent club activities and email networks for organisers to share ideas and tips.

As I visited England during their summer school holidays, I was unable to visit a reading group in action. However, it was clear from my visit to Educational Extra’s Reading Groups' coordinator, Ben Locker, that the program is extremely successful and beneficial to its young participants and their teachers. Australian schools would benefit enormously by a coordinated program of supported reading groups such as that offered by Educational Extra to promote reading for pleasure and educational success outside the curriculum constraints of the classroom.

The Birmingham Library offers innovative programming through its Centre for the Child within the Library itself, and through its outreach programs, which include a program delivering books and information about supporting early literacy to new parents through the region’s hospitals and baby health centres. I visited the Centre for the Child during their summer holiday program and participated in a book-based activity with pre-schoolers. However, I was most impressed to learn about the annual Young Readers UK literary festival for young readers developed and mounted by the Birmingham Library.

Young Readers UK is a festival with children and young adults and their families as its target audience. Over 100 children’s book authors and illustrators, poets and storytellers make up the two week program, and each year the Festival attracts thousands of young participants. This is remarkable for a child-focused arts festival, but especially so as it is mounted in a regional centre. Given that children’s books are so frequently marginalised in the literary community, it is encouraging to know that such an extensive Children’s Literature Festival can attract so many participants and be successful over many years. Regretfully, I was not in England during the 2001 Festival, but hope to attend the Festival some time in the future, and look to experiencing it as a model for potential Australian children’s book festivals.

The Scottish Book Trust focuses many of its activities on children and youth. These activities include promoting Scottish children’s literature, as well as child and youth literacy. Their Writers in Scotland scheme subsidises visits by Scottish writers to schools and libraries, allowing Scottish children to benefit from the experience of meeting and working with professional writers. Although such school visits are common in Australia, few receive subsidised funding to assist disadvantaged communities to access such visits.
The Trust also produces an extensive range of highly professional publications. They include:

6. Words of Wonder. Available for children from toddlers to teenagers, these colourful leaflets offer guidance and up-to-the-minute recommendations to appeal to young readers and all those interested in what they’re reading.

* Beginning with Books. Widely used by teachers, librarians, social workers and health visitors to support early literacy initiatives, this illustrated booklet is designed for the parents of young children. Beginning with Books is available in 10 languages including Gaelic, Scots and Welsh.
* Radical Reading. This leaflet is designed to help parents and teachers keep adolescent readers interested in reading. It lists over one hundred "tried and true" books for this age group.
* What’s best for Your Child. This leaflet gives tips on encouraging reading for parents of children from birth to teens. Schools and libraries often distribute it amongst parents and carers as part of their work.

The Trust also publishes posters, reading guides and numerous other publications to support children’s reading and promote Scottish writers. It is perhaps the most comprehensive publications list of any child-focused literature organisation I have come across, and serves as a model for the kinds of publications-as-outreach/education for organisations such as The Children’s Book Council and the network of Writers’ Centres around Australia.

The Trust also acts as a central repository of information about book events throughout Scotland, offers training and outreach programs such as "Books For Boys", "Getting Them Reading", specialist study workshops for Higher English pupils and in-service talks for teachers and librarians, and administers literary awards. In Australia, these kinds of activities tend to be divided amongst different professional and voluntary organisations with varying degrees of funding, and to varying success. Having all these disparate activities coordinated by a central body allows for a cohesive approach, and avoids duplication across different organisations. Significant centralised funding such as that enjoyed by the Trust also allows for a high level of professionalism in program development and publication standards.

Helena McConnell and Mary Briggs established the Centre for the Children’s Book as an archival repository for British children’s literature. For many years, international (especially US) collectors have been buying manuscripts, illustrations and other related archival material of British children’s books, and Helena and Mary believed it was important to both keep this material in the UK, and to make it available to scholars and researchers. Virtually single-handedly, these two women have brought to fruition not merely a literary/academic archive, but what will probably be the world’s premier community-focused Children’s Literature Centre.

The development of the Centre has coincided with a boom in Newcastle under the Labour government — Newcastle has been completely transformed in the 13 years since I last visited family there in 1988. New apartment complexes along the riverfront sit cheek by jowl with a new Arts Centre and a new Music Centre. Heritage buildings are being refurbished as community arts centres, and a particular focus in the educational community is on youth literacy targeting youth at risk. It is in this context of community renewal and cultural growth that the Centre for the Children’s Book is emerging.

The Centre has been operational for several years now, although it won’t be settled in its new home in the St Peter’s Marina, a heritage mill building until 2003. When that happens, the Centre will be a seven story complex, offering gallery space, an educational centre, a bookshop and other program and exhibition spaces. The archive, the initial purpose for the Centre, will be held off-site, but will be made available as always intended. To date, the Centre has used various venues around Newcastle to mount hugely successful programs and exhibitions, such as a Tin Tin exhibition that attracted tens of thousands of visitors from the UK and Europe.

I believe that the success and innovation of the Centre is due in no small part to the remarkable and, in my experience, rare achievement of bringing together financial and practical support from groups across the spectrum of community — arts organisations, national and local government, educational groups, commercial organisations such as publishers and corporate sponsorship. In this way, the Centre provides a model we can learn a great deal from in Australia in our efforts to mount well-supported and viable, on-going programs and comparable Youth Arts Centres. Finally, I am hoping in coming years, with the support of the Australia Council and Australian publishers, to mount a program and exhibition of Australian children’s books at the Centre for the Children’s book.

In short, my Fellowship was an extraordinary opportunity to experience best practise by colleagues in education, libraries, publishing and community arts in delivering quality literary and literacy experiences to children and young adults from all walks of life, and all levels of participation in culture and society. Many of the programs I visited would meet the needs of young Australians, and offer them experiences not currently available to them. I am currently working towards making partnerships with appropriate arts and literature organisations to investigate new programs such as a sister Young Writers’ Conference to the New England Young Writers’ Conference, and maintaining and developing the contacts made. In particular, I am pursuing the possibility of touring some Australian children’s authors to the US and UK. Furthermore, we in the Australian children’s literature community should work actively to develop and nurture international links and professional and cultural exchanges. We should also beware our own parochialism and be open to the ideas, innovations and experiences of our international colleagues in publishing for young people, and even more particularly, of our colleagues delivering significant literary and literature experiences to young readers and writers.

My Fellowship confirmed for me some of the "gaps" I have long felt have existed in the work we do with and for young readers and writers in Australia. I was also impressed with the high degree of regard with which Australian children’s books are held internationally, and hope to build on the contacts I made to actively promote Australian children’s books and their creators to the rest of the world.

One of the key groups that I feel have been under-serviced by literature programs outside the education system are gifted teenage writers aged 14/15+. Prior to leaving the State Library of NSW in order to undertake my Fellowship, I was Senior Project Officer for two years on Nestlé Write Around Australia, a creative writing program for children in their senior years of primary school. We frequently received requests from high school students, asking that a category of the program be added for them, as since they had left primary school, their opportunity to participate in creative writing programs had all but disappeared.
The New England Young Writers Conference provides an excellent model for supporting adolescent writers. The conference lasts for four days, and students — who must submit work and a recommendation from their English teacher to be accepted into the Conference — elect to join either a prose or poetry workshop. Each morning, they work in small groups with a professional, published writer in their genre, and also have several one-on-one conferences with their tutor. Teachers attending the conference as chaperones also have their own morning writing workshops, a wonderful personal and professional development opportunity.
In the afternoon teachers and students alike can choose from electives focusing on specific aspects of writing, such as dialogue and character development. At night, there are open mic readings and poetry slams, as well as musical entertainment and other social events.
The conference was one of the most satisfying creative experiences I have ever had, and it was clear from the students that it also provided them with life-changing opportunities. Young adults who are serious about their writing need all the support they can get, yet outside of the classroom, which is usually curriculum-bound, they rarely have the opportunity to benefit from professional support and advice. Those workshops which do exist are usually one-offs, and writing competitions rarely provide much in the way of feedback.
I am currently working to establish a sister conference to the New England Writers’ Conference in my home state of NSW. I have received a great deal of enthusiasm for this project in my discussions with possible partners, and I hope to be able to mount a pilot conference in 2003. The biggest challenge will be in finding enough funding to ensure that the NSW Young Writers’ Conference will be accessible to all young writers, regardless of economic situation. Long-term, I hope to incorporate an exchange program for both students and teachers with the New England conference.

Disadvantaged children and youth and young people living in extreme circumstances can benefit enormously from access to reading and writing programs, yet are rarely able to do so. Two programs I visited in the USA were specifically set up to address the needs of some of the neediest young people in their communities. In Los Angeles, Create Now! takes professional television, film and song writers to centres for homeless youth and into youth detention centres. These young people have the opportunity — for some, the first opportunity in their life — for creative expression. In some instances, work opportunities have arisen from the workshops organised by Create Now. In Chicago, Literature For All of Us coordinates reading and writing groups for pregnant and parenting teenage girls. The literacy rates of these girls and their children and improved remarkably by the program. Common to both these programs is the enormous improvement in self-esteem in the young participants.

While many public literary programs for children and young people attempt to find ways to ensure access for socially and economically disadvantaged children, I am not aware of any groups or programs specifically targeting the young people from the most difficult backgrounds in their literary programs. This is an area that requires attention, as it is evident that the opportunity to improve both the literacy standards and the opportunity for self-expression makes a significant difference to the lives and self-esteem of this group of young people. I personally intend to look for opportunities to promote this idea, and to assist social welfare organisations to include such activities in their programming.

While not the specific focus of my Fellowship, it provided me with a wonderful opportunity to meet with colleagues from all areas of the children’s book community. I found there to be an enormous interest in Australian children’s books and their creators, but as comparatively few Australian children’s books are published internationally, my colleagues had difficulty accessing either the books themselves or information about them. To this end, I am investigating two projects:

1 . To work with the Centre for the Children’s Book in Newcastle, England to coordinate an exhibition and education program about Australian children’s books.
2 . To establish a website dedicated to promoting Australian children’s books to the world. The site will be linked to an Australian online bookseller.


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