Less than a week now until World Literacy Day 2017 and I’d like to invite all my readers and supporters to join us live via YouTube on Friday, 8 September at 6.30pm AEST. I’m so excited to be hosting an activity with the children of Botongon and being able to share our music, songs and learning activities while interacting with all of you as well.
What is even more exciting is that children’s author and poet Dr June Perkins will be joining us live via Skype. When I say ‘joining us live’, I mean I will be broadcasting June live on my TV to the children of Botongon (and hopefully you too). If you are not familiar with June’s work please visit the website of her latest book Magic Fish Dreaming right now.
June will be reading poetry from Magic Fish Dreaming as well as sharing some personal stories with the children. June and her collaborator (Illustrator Helene Magisson) have kindly given permission for me to print extracts from the book and present to the children as gifts (all free of charge). What a wonderful way to celebrate the value of literacy, education and knowledge!
World Literacy Day for me is an important recognition of the power of education. I feel the meaning of literacy in the world today is more than being able to read and write: it’s also about understanding and being able to navigate living in a society. Many of the children here in Botongon are being raised by parents or grandparents who struggle to fill out forms or open a bank account and don’t understand administrative processes at hospitals and welfare agencies. As you can imagine, they are frequently swindled and misled. For these children, school is critical if they are to have any chance of breaking the cycle of poverty. Having someone like June to speak to them on Friday will be a unique inspiration for them (and also a surprise). I haven’t told the children yet that June will be joining us on Friday, I can’t wait to see their faces when June appears on that TV screen.
Here’s a short video of the children of Botongon at one of our recent activities. Will you join us on Friday?
Since moving to the Philippines June has been such a source of inspiration, friendship and support. Not only has she supported my projects here with the children, but she has been a friend on the other end of my computer, as well as someone who is generous with her expert opinion and guidance on writing generally.
I really hope you can join us on Friday and I’ll be posting more details in a separate post (hopefully there will be a hyperlink here before the end of the day). YOU CAN WATCH IT LIVE HERE.
PS: please note that joining us live on Friday is NOT A telethon event. It is completely free and my way of sharing what I am doing and being able to give a shout out to my sponsors and supporters. I will NOT be soliciting donations.
Interview with Dr June Perkins
Last week I had the pleasure of chatting with June and I’m sharing our discussion below.
Magic Fish Dreaming has been available now for about a year and you’ve been delivering a lot of workshops and doing a lot of readings at schools and for children generally. How are kids responding to the book?
It depends on the poems I read, and I usually only read three from the book at a time. ‘Tawny’ went well on the first reading to an audience of children who I knew loved birds, because I asked them before I chose to read them that poem.
‘Discovering Magic’ depends on the nature literacy of the children. It mentions many Far North Queensland creatures, but the drawings help a lot with creating understanding of that poem. Without the pictures it would be tricky, but I also include props like soft toys of the same animals.
‘River Song’ we used as a mentor creativity text at a library workshop. It has a kind of gentle metre and a magical illustration.
What type of questions do they ask you?
With ‘Tawny’ they were more interested in telling me stories about the night time birds they saw. They would have happily kept sharing their love of nature with me for a long time.
With ‘River Song’ a parent later told me they loved the workshop and spoke a lot about the ladder in the poem and had begun writing poems. That was pretty special to hear.
Magic Fish Dreaming certainly celebrates multi-culturalism, are the kids noticing the diversity in the book and taking that on board?
So far, I haven’t had anyone comment on that or ask about it in a school context. However parents with children of diverse backgrounds say their children love the book and all the diverse peoples and creatures in it and love reading a few poems at a time before they sleep. I think it speaks at a subconscious level perhaps.
Have you had much exposure to children with English as a Second Language during your career?
That’s an interesting question Mel. My mother, and some of my high school teachers were English as a second language adults, but I don’t think I was around children of ESL background, much when these poems were being composed. I was around cultural diversity though, with second generation migrants and Indigenous children, like those you see in the book.
I spend a lot of time these days with second and third generation migrant youth who often have their own way of speaking English and very specific experiences at home with their migrant parents.
I’m finding the children here in the Philippines are especially delighted with the drawings but need me to provide a side commentary as I read them the poems. Have you had any direct contact with non-english speaking kids while promoting Magic Fish Dreaming?
The language of the book is a little sophisticated at times for young English speakers as well so that doesn’t surprise me, but I knew that the art work would help with it being understood.
I chose the words not necessarily for how easy they are to understand but because they seemed right for the poems, in their musical, alliterative or metaphorical qualities.
Really the words and images work well together and I was conscious this book would benefit from a sensitive and talented illustrator.
I’m thrilled that you will be joining us on World Literacy Day to read with the kids and be part of our celebrations. What does World Literacy Day mean to you?
World literacy can be in reading, writing, but also in our environment, other cultures and our virtues. That is we can learn to care for the environment if we know more about it and respect it, and we can express virtues also if we can understand and name them.
A lot of us believe that literacy is the responsibility of teachers and educational institutions, do you have any thoughts on this?
Literacy is community responsibility, with a vital role for parents, teachers, and others to work in harmony with each other and support each other. The more educated parents are, the more educated their children can be in the home environment.
If a home environment is difficult for any reason, a great school can provide a pathway to a better future and help change things, but for this to happen children must love going to school and attend regularly to learn.
However, it certainly works best if school, home, and the child all have a good relationship with each other, so the child is motivated to learn.
Children themselves if they chose to learn can often overcome great odds to succeed, and now and then this happens despite difficult home and school environments, and these children can be so instrumental in changing the world through their incredible courage.
Biography Dr June Perkins
June Perkins, a Papua New Guinean Australian, world citizen, has been writing, performing and publishing poetry in Australia and the Pacific. Her family settled in Tasmania when she was one. She has a Ph.D. from the University of Sydney on the topic of Writing Empowerment and has previously published two books, Under One Sky (2010) and After Yasi, Finding the Smile Within (2013). In 2008, after moving to Far North Queensland, she coordinated Ripple, a community project for multicultural groups and schools to celebrate poetry and photography and began writing some of the poetry that would become this book. In 2016 she won a mentorship for writing picture books from the Australian Society of Authors, and has been working on picture books and a young adults novel ever since. She is a member of the fabulous Write Links, QWC, ASA and several other organisations that support writing. She appeared in Queensland Writer’s Centre video campaigns to raise scholarship money for diverse writers.
© 2017 Melinda J. Irvine