Monday, May 05, 2014

Surfing Strange Tsunamis by Jackie French

"Stories tell us who we are. They teach us empathy so we understand who others are. They give us the power to imagine and create the future."

Jackie French's theme for her term as the 2014 Australian Children's Laureate is 'Share a Story'. Thank you, Jackie, for sharing this travel story with us at Reading for Australia

Last night, I time-travelled to Ancient Greece, almost two and a half thousand years ago. I ate dinner (tough mutton and very sweet figs) while Socrates talked and young Plato scribbled the notes that one day he’d turn into his book – that millennia later I'd read.

Books take you on many journeys.

I’ve been to school in a volcano (School For Heroes), surfed a tsunami (Elephant Alert), milked a goat on the ship that brought Captain Cook to Australia (The Goat Who Sailed the World). I’ve watched the battle of Waterloo (Nanberry: Black Brother White) and wept at the large and small  tragedies of World War I (A Rose for the Anzac Boys).

click to enlarge

But the most fascinating expeditions are into the lives of other people. A book can teach you how a volcano works. It will also teach you about ourselves and about each other, too. For a short time you become each person in every book you read. During a year of reading, you’ll live a thousand lives.

It’s fun. It also makes you wise, which is not the same as clever.

Books make you clever too – each book you read when you are young increases the number of neurons and the connections between them that allow your brain to grow. It’s like weight lifting. Big weights often mean big muscles. Big books – or lots of small ones – often mean big brain muscles.

Adults have two questions they ask kids they don’t know. Question 1: ‘How is school?’. Question 2: ‘And what do you want to do when you leave school?’

Books show you how you might want to live, what you’d like the world to be like – and how you might create it. Books give you dreams, as well as the tools to make them come true.

Books give us friends across the world, the strange friendship between everyone who has ever read the same book, the even stranger friendship that links me and you.

We’ve met now, you and I. And when you turn the pages of any of my books, we are travelling together.

About the Author

Jackie French worked out how to make a living from two of the things she loves best: wombats and writing books*. She lives in the Araluen Valley in NSW.  

A full time writer for over twenty years, Jackie is the 2014 Australian Children's Laureate (see below). 

Jackie has written over 140 fiction and non-fiction books. Her writing career spans 25 years and includes 248 wombats, 3,721 bush rats, 36 languages and over 70 awards in Australia and overseas. Her books include Hitler's Daughter, Pennies for Hitler, The Girl from Snowy River, Diary of a Wombat and Dinosaurs Love Cheese. Not all of them contain wombats.

Jackie's literary and children’s choice awards in Australia and internationally include the Children's Book Council Book of the Year for Younger Readers for Hitler's Daughter, which also won the UK WOW award and the NSW Premier's History Award for The Night They Stormed Eureka.

For a full list of awards and prizes and lots of information about Jackie's books, see Jackie's website at She is passionate about history, the environment and the conservation of wildlife and our planet. Jackie is also dyslexic, and is a strong advocate of help for children with learning difficulties.

* And apples. And mooching about the bush. 

‘The Australian Children’s Laureate: enriching the lives of young Australians through the power of story.’ 

Since 2011, highly respected Australian children’s authors or illustrators have been awarded this prestigious honour for an outstanding contribution to children’s literature. The Australian Children's Laureate acts as a national and international ambassador for reading.

The Australian Children’s Laureate is an initiative developed by the Australian Children’s Literature Alliance (ACLA), founded in 2008. Every two years, a children’s author or illustrator is awarded this prestigious role for their outstanding contribution to children’s literature. The Laureate role is to promote the importance and transformational power of reading and story in the lives of young Australians.

Appointed in February 2014, the theme for Jackie’s term as Australian Children’s Laureate is ‘Share a Story’. Jackie passionately believes that:
  • every child has the right to have a book to go to bed with - and a bed to read it in.
  • every child has the right to be taught to read, because without that they have lost the most vital social, educational and professional communication in the modern world.
  • every child has the right to be guided to the books they need, and the books they will love, in schools, in libraries, and in a safe place they can call a home,
and says:
There are a million ways to share a book or story — to read to a child on your lap; to have a child read to you while you cook dinner; to read to the dog when it has to go to the vet to calm it (or you!) down; to join a storytelling session at your library; to lend a book to your best friend; to tell your grandchildren what life was like when you were young over the phone or on Skype; to read to thousands by video conferencing; to be read a book on television by a much loved presenter. 

Stories tell us who we are. They teach us empathy so we understand who others are. They give us the power to imagine and create the future.
Find out what Jackie French is doing during her two year term at the Australian Children’s Laureate site.


1 comment:

  1. Thank you Jackie and congratulations again on your laureateship. With your theme of sharing stories I feel that Australian children's literature is in safe hands.

    What you say about books giving us friends across the world is quite literally true for Lit Quiz kids who meet at a world final. There is something magical about the ease in which they strike friendships and conversations about their favourite authors and books very soon after first meeting and their ability to share their stories with like-minded kids, many of whom they stay in touch with long after the week of the world final.

    Thank you for sharing this story with us.

    Jackie also wrote "Why Eating Books is not a Good Idea" in May 2013 where she mentions a few of her favourite books - definitely worth a look too.