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Picture books in the high school library: Fantastic or foolish?

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While reshelving book the other day, I overheard one girl question the necessity of picture books in a high school library (I am a library aide at a secondary college). ‘We are in high school,’ she exclaimed. ‘Surely we are too old for picture books!(or something to that effect)’. One of the librarians calmly explained that we keep a collection of pictures book for our ESL and learning support students, and for a unit of English where students explore picture books.

Picture books provide other curriculum benefits as well. Susan M. Landt in her article about using picture books in Geography points out that picture books are a great way to engage student and to introduce certain topics and subjects. She goes on to say that picture books are often thought of as being redundant after students are advanced enough to read novels. Trevor Cairney believes  this tendency to see picture books as childish ignores the complex themes and literacy and visual devices that authors and illustrators use. He promotes the continued use of picture books as supporting literacy and creativity;

‘Picture books are important for children ages 0-12 years, so don’t neglect them or disregard them in a perhaps well-intentioned, but misguided desire to improve your children as readers. Remember books are foundational to language writing, knowledge, thinking and creativity as well. They represent one of the best ways to offer children multimodal experiences with text’– Trevor Cairney

I would go further than this. I think that picture books have merit for all ages, not just those aged 0-12, and not just for those who are studying writing or language. As an artform, picture books often give an insight into an aspect of the human condition, history, or natural history which can be forgotten or overlooked in the adult world. Picture book illustrators and authors have a fantastic ability to refine stories into a form that is clean and relatable. Combining this form of storytelling with illustrations provides an extra level of meaning.

I think it would be fair at this stage to point out that I have a background in the visual arts,  and have a passion for illustration of all kinds. I will freely admit to spending more time looking at the illustrations than I do reading the text. But is this necessarily a bad thing? Children’s book illustrators (the accomplished ones, not the Disney spin-offs. My intense dislike of Disney picture books is a whole other post!) are often overlooked as artist, and while their subjects and style can be a bit cutesy at times, their skill and imagination is awe inspiring. Here are some titles that I am loving at the moment:

‘Peggy’ (Anna Walker, Scholastic)peggy

Peggy is a story about an adventurous chicken who strays into the city and has a day of fun and new discoveries, but is glad to finally find her way home. The illustrations are soft watercolours embellished with graphite, coloured pencil and collage. The pages alternate between full page illustrations, storyboard like grids and small drawings on almost blank pages. This style of layout gives the book visual variety and combined with a repetition of graphite lines, gives a sense of movement to Peggy’s journey.



‘Octopuppy’ (Martin McKenna, Omnibus Books)


Octopuppy (not to be confused with Octomom!) tells the story of Edgar, who really wants a puppy, but ends up with Jarvis the octopus. Jarvis refuses to act like a dog, despite being entered into a dog show, and embarasses Edgar, by juggling, playing the piano and ballet dancing in front of the judges and other contestants. The illustrations in Octopuppy are digitally produced and consequently are more polished than the hand drawn illustrations in ‘Peggy.’ However, McKenna’s attention to detail really makes the story of Jarvis and Edgar come alive and the fanciful end pages showing Jarvis in a variety of costumes is  endearing.



‘Laika, the astronaut’ (Owen Davey, Allen and Unwin)


If you have a soft spot for dogs, this book may bring a few tears to your eyes. It is the true story of Laika (pronounced like+a) the stray dog who is recruited into the Soviet space program and  lost in space on her first mission. There is a beautiful, heartwarming twist at the end which I won’t spoil. The illustrations stick to a muted palette, but this choice suits the retro style of the illustrations perfectly.





‘The Rules of Summer’ (Shaun Tan, Lothian)


I have had a bit of an art crush on Shaun Tan for a while now, all thanks to this book, which I initially didn’t like much at all. While I enjoyed his quirky and beautifully rendered illustrations, I found the storyline annoyingly unfathomable. But, after reading it a few times, I decided that it was a story of a little boy who makes mistakes, pride, apology and forgiveness set in a bizarre and colourful world.




We all have fond memories of picture books from our childhood. Being read to by a parent or grandparent, or endlessly pouring over a favorite. Why does this have to stop in adulthood? Next time you are in a book  shop, why not buy a picture book all for yourself? I say be selfish! don’t give it to the kids, keep it as a special gift to your imagination and sense of joy!



Libraries Dewey it better…..

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A couple of months ago I had a interesting conversation with a company rep about the Dewey Decimal systems in schools. He was very critical of some school decision to remove the Dewey Decimal system from its shelves, and sometimes even the books as well (you can read about that here).

I don’t remember ever formally learning how to find books using Dewey, but after two undergraduate degrees and most of a master’s degree, and a job as a library aide, navigating Dewey  comes  as second nature. However, I can definitely see how attempting to find a book in the non-fiction section can be daunting, especially to those who are still learning about numbers and the alphabet.

There is much discussion in the Library and information sector about the relevance of Dewey, particularly in the primary school library. Holli Buchter in her article ‘Dewey vs. Genre Throw down’ ( my apologies to those who are unable to access this article) outlines how her school replaced Dewey with a genre based system, which organises non-fiction based on its subject. Kaplan’s (et al) article, ‘Are Dewey’s day numbered?’ also recounts how a primary school abandoned Dewey for  a similar system.

Both articles are enthusiastic about the increased patronage and circulation after the change to a genre based system and recount how students were able to navigate their way around the non- fiction without the help of the librarian. Buchter’s article explains that  this experience of success for students helped to alleviate feelings of failure and anxiety created by the confusion of the Dewey system and  creates seamless links between classroom learning and research. Kaplan (et al) mirrors this idea, saying that students achieved an ‘aha’ moment when they found the information they were looking for independently.

These libraries are identifying a need in their client base and being flexible and creative in their solutions. By doing this they have achieved an environment which supports the student’s learning and develops a safe, interesting place where students can delve deeper into the subjects that inspire them. However, what happens to these students once they move beyond these libraries? The library experience (hopefully) doesn’t end in primary school. How will these students cope when they move into High school, or  public or academic libraries?

While Dewey can be daunting, even to those who are used to it, it does provide the library with a consistent  way of organising resources. Shirley Bateman also points out that Dewey is universal, meaning that students can conceivably access information in a variety of libraries and  it can accommodate a multitude of subjects in a detailed way.

Maybe the Dewey vs Genre argument can’t be solved with a black and white solution. Maybe some libraries need to the strictly DDeweyewey, while others need a Genre system or a combination of both. The ultimate goal is to achieve an environment where the clients are able to find what they need, and provide an enjoyable (or at least satisfying) experience. I think, however, that school libraries need to be mindful that they are establishing the habits of future library users and that Dewey is likely to be in that future.

What do you think? Are you comfortable with Dewey? Would you prefer a browsable, genre based system?

The Article: An academic journey

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photoWhile craft, sewing and food are definitely a time consuming passion, my Master’s degree in Library and Information Science often takes centre stage. This semester, I have had the opportunity to devote all of my time exploring one issue; seniors, social technology and public libraries. The inspiration for this project came from helping a couple of seniors in my life through their technology use and witnessing the problems and barriers they faced. The project involved interviewing seniors to find out exactly how they use social technologies and then comparing the results to the programs that public library offer.

Developing a project from scratch presented several challenges. The research problem needed to be succinct and focussed, meaning that the multitude of ideas I had identified in my initial thinking needed to be pared down. The aim was to clarify my thinking and to sift out the central themes that could lead to a tidy article and be interesting enough keep focus over the duration of the semester. This was achieved in the project, however, at times I found it very difficult to funnel the large amounts of information I was dealing with into tight parcels of information that supported the overall premise of the project.

The other challenging aspect of this project was process of initiating, setting up and conducting interviews. By nature, I am a fairly solitary being and usually choose to do things by myself if I can. For this project, I had to cold call strangers, explain my project and what I wanted from each participant, and follow up on calls and emails if people didn’t reply. This process was definitely out of my comfort zone, but an important learning curve in terms of what I am actually capable of. I think sometimes the important lessons learnt don’t necessary come from the topic or the task, but a realisation that you are capable of things that were previously thought uncomfortable and avoided.

The advantage of devoting an entire semester on one project is the depth of understanding that is developed about the topic and the insights that this can bring. Before I began this project I had a static view of what a senior and technology looked like. It was a person who had no interest in technology and was fearful of how it worked and what its use meant for society. Actually talking to seniors about their technology use showed me that in reality, seniors had complex views of technology and were largely positive about the effect it had on their lives. I think that this is an essential lesson for a new librarian. Client’s can’t be taken at face value, they each have unique information or entertainment needs which should be met on an individual basis, not with a blanket solution.

At the end of this semester, I am a little bit brain dead, but glad that I decided to undergo this project. It was interesting (and at times scary) to be on the other side of producing an academic article, after spending so many years relying on them to learn and finish assignments. I have an intense appreciation for the time, effort and energy that it takes to arrive at the final five thousand words.

A big thanks to Zaana Howard for the support and mentorship this semester. Thanks also to Paul Edwards and Amanda Fitzsimon for their encouragement, and of course, to all my lovely participants for their time!

Crockery Memories Project

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For a while now, my art practice has dealt with memories and how textures, especially from tresured articles of clothing, can evoke memories. Here is an excerpt from my artist statement

“Life is a complex gathering of memories, and not always memories of important or life changing events, but the textures, smells, feelings and dreams of everyday existence. Memories are often impossible, hazy fragments that are not structured along a linear timeline, but an assortment of jumbled occurrences that are sometimes confused with dreams, day- dreams and stories. These tangled thread combined to form a life lived”

fancy huh?

So my new project is an extension of this and will include the memories of meals and the implements and containers we use/ used. I have some fond memories of cooking when I was a child and being allowed to experiment and make a mess. I also have some great memories of great (and not so great meals….thinking of the time Mum mistook rose hip jam for Pasta sauce… love you Mum, if you are reading x) meals shared with family and friends.
BUT to do this I need your help!
I am after images of crockery/serving dishes/ platters/cups/ pattern or colours that remind you of meals shared, in childhood or otherwise. You can share your images on instagram on the hashtag #crockerymemories
i will post photos of the resulting artworks as they are made

Can wait to see your photos!

Penny Pinching

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It suddenly dawned on us this year that if we were going to get anywhere in life, we would have to start watching our spending and putting some money aside for the important grown up purchases that everyone seems so bothered with.

It kind of sound like a new years resolution, with it being a new direction in life and the beginning of the new year and all…. but I personally really dislike the idea of a new years resolution. Why does new things in your life always have to start Jan 1? wouldn’t it be better to space them out throughout the year so you get to enjoy the newness all year round? And why are they always all about loosing weight, getting healthy and general boring stuff? Surely that should be a beginning of every day resolution?*

(* this is not, of course, a go at those wonderful people who have used the beginning of a new year to redesign their lives for the better. I salute you! Keep up the good work, you are awesome!)

So anyway, random rants aside, I turned our decision to reduce spending into an opportunity for some creative boundaries. Usually I see something bright and shine somewhere, get all excited, and embark on a shopping trip to Spotlight where I put a considerable dent in the credit card. Not only is this bad for the bank balance, the environment takes a bit of a beating as well. New fabric, haberdashery and all of the bits and pieces you buy because you think it will make you a crafty genius, take considerable amounts of resources, carbon and electricity to make. SO the new rules in my studio are;

  • No buying of new fabric/ribbon/beads/embroidery floss. It all must be sourced from my own collection, swapped or brought from an op shop.
  • Recycle as much as possible. Break down old projects or things that have been discarded if needed.
  • Organise. This might sound a bit odd, but if you are organised and know exactly what you have in your studio, the condition its in and how much is left, you are less likely to buy new products out of laziness, or not being able to find them.
  • If new things need to be brought, it has to come out of the Craft Fund (essentially a can of coins! no fancy investment funds here!)
    The Craft Fund

    The Craft Fund

    Rhonda Hetzel’s book ‘Down to Earth‘ really helped me come to this decision. She has some great things to say about attitudes towards money and spending which really put some things into perspective for me. It’s funny how  you can know something in principal, but when it comes to translating that to action, there is that little missing link. Rhonda’s book filled in some of those missing links for me.

“I thought it was normal to have everything I wanted… we are encouraged to think that way. The average Western lifestyle always gives you need things to crave; it keeps encouraging you to spend beyond your means. That will never change, you will have to change instead (p 48)”


(You can find Rhonda’s blog here)

I am pretty sure I will break these rules at some stage, but I think boundaries can help the creative juices along!

What do you think? I would love to hear your thrifty crafty tales!

I wear bows. Because Bows are cool

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I brought myself a sewing machine a couple of weeks ago and I though I would (belatedly) celebrate by sharing one of my favorite sewing projects. Its a great way to use up scraps of fabric and ribbon and makes a great gift!

How to make a fabric hair bow

What you will need:

Materials ready to go

  • approximately  28×11 cm of fabric (cotton is best)
  • a piece of ribbon, 4-7 cm long and at least 1.5 cm wide
  • scissors
  • needle and thread
  • sewing machine (you can hand sew if you don’t have one)
  • hot glue gun or fabric glue
  • bobby pin or finger curl clip (or brooch pin)
  • a scrap of felt
  • iron

Step one: Fold your fabric so that the printed side faces in pin and sew down long edge (about 1 cm in from the edge – or whatever you are comfortable with). Turn inside out and arrange so that the seam is running down the middle of the fabric, not at the edge, like this

seam down the middle

Step Two: Iron fabric. Then, fold your fabric in half and mark the centre with a pin. Now fold the two ends into the centre  and pin. At  this point you can start to get a feel for the proportions of your bow. If you feel that its going to be too big and floppy, trim and equal amount off each end and re-pin

fold and pin








Step Three: Next, run a line of running stitch down the edge of your fabric end (making sure you get ALL of the fabric!). Try not to make your stitches too tight or small. Then pull the thread so that the fabric gathers. Pass the needle back through the gathered fabric so that the gathering stays bunched up, and secure with a few stitches and a knot.

Running stitch















Step Four: Now we are going to create the centre of the bow. Stitch one end of your ribbon to the middle of the back of your bow (or front – whatever will make it look nice!). The stitches don’t have to be perfect, just strong enough to hold the ribbon to the fabric (you can hot-glue gun this step if you want).

stitch ribbon to back








Step Five: Fold your ribbon around the front of the bow so that it meets up and overlaps at the back. Pin. Check the proportions of the ribbon and bow- you don’t want it too tight or too loose. Trim and sew the ribbon (again, don’t stress if the stitching isn’t perfect, you are going to cover all of this over!).

fold ribbon around to back so it overlaps









Step Six: Cut a small piece of felt that is big enough to cover all your stitching, but can’t been seen from the front. Next, stitch your bobby pin or finger curl pin on to the felt.  Make sure it can’t slip off. (Alternatively, you could use a brooch pin for this step- or why not both?!)

stitch pin to felt








Step Seven: Glue the felt to the back of your bow.

Step Eight: You’re done! enjoy!


Insanity and the bookcase

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I haven’t posted for a while now and there is a very good reason for that…. University, and lots of it. The assignments are flying thick and fast, not the mention the lectures, readings and general stress that comes with a Master’s degree.

In the middle of all this madness I come up with the awesome idea of downsizing my collection of craft/art supplies and tools and relocating them to the bookcase/ study and transforming the studio into a library/wine nook/ general de-stressing zone (I was envisioning LOTS of Dr. Who posters as well!). Great idea? Yes!

Then came to the actual doing.  And the severe psychological harm of down sizing a room that essentially has been a haven of hoarding for the past three years. Did I really think I was going to reuse all of those egg cartons? and bits of bias binding rescued from the op shop? Of Course! But I think once the stress of throwing things that I previously thought I couldn’t live without and paring my art/craft practice down to the bare minimum will be a good excercise for the brain and soul. And we will gain a space in the house that is devoted to relaxation and free of electronics and TV.

Bring it on I say!

Organised deliciousness. My plan for the new and improved art/craft storage space. Recycled cardboard boxes covered with fabric. Spray adhesive has been my saviour here, so quick and easy and relatively clean.


Chaos! all of the contents of the book-case and studio in transit. I can’t seem to produce the fabric covered boxes quick enough! Patience is the key here, I think.