GARY CREW has great respect for the children of the Sunshine Coast Hinterland. In fact, he has great respect for kids everywhere. He finds them intelligent, inquisitive, imaginative, and always responsive when it comes to reading. His observations were borne out as he visited each of the schools participating in this year’s Gary Crew Hinterland Readers’ Cup to be held at the Maleny State School Hall on Friday 13 September.
What began as an educational programme to foster a love of literature among year 4 students in 2003 has evolved into an inter-school literary contest in primary schools across the range. These days, the children are not simply asked questions about their recall of the stories they have read, but are encouraged to think beyond the boundaries of the page. As Gary says: “rather than knowing how many piggies went to market, they
need to consider why the piggies had to go, what they might have seen on the way, what experiences awaited them at the market.”
Of course, the literature the year 4s will be reading is far more complex than piggies going to market. As Gary visited each of the participating schools – Maleny, Montville, Mapleton and Conondale – he read from his award-winning book, The Watertower. The response from the kids to this very complex book was overwhelming. After much spirited discussion and speculation, Gary suggested they write a sequel to the story. Gary will pick a winner, to be announced on the day of the Cup.
With such intelligent enthusiasm evident in young readers, Gary is at a loss to explain why adults persist in dumbing down reading activities when they should be encouraging higher achievement and wider thought among the young. He has observed the bar being lowered over the years, and is perturbed by the way teachers and librarians follow the trend of publishers in appealing to the masses. “Bread and circuses,” Gary calls it. Superficial entertainment.
Last year, seeking to recommend a young adult anthology to students he was coaching in short-story writing at Pacific Lutheran College, all he could find in his local library were two young adult short-story anthologies: one on dragons and one on vampires, neither of which was suitable.
“Raise the bar, and the kids will go with you,” Gary insists. He has no doubt they recognise when they are being patronised.
Year 4 children participating in this year’s Hinterland Readers’ Cup will most certainly have their intelligence tested. It promises to be a lively competition with Steven Lang at the helm as compere.
Over the 13 years of the Cup, Maleny Public Librarians and the Maleny School Librarian have been driving forces, selecting books for the readers, smoothing feathers where needed, and always encouraging reading before and after the event. Maleny Library Coordinator Patricia Stahl, and more recently, library assistant Amanda Kennedy, have enjoyed facilitating the community event.
Local businesses also wholeheartedly show their support. In the town of cooperatives, the Cup itself is a truly co-operative event involving libraries, Friends of the Library, schools, the University of the Sunshine Coast and the retail sector. There is no boss, everyone’s input is equal.
IGA and Maple Street Coop supply morning tea, Maleny Editions, Rosetta Books and your Hinterland Times contribute with book vouchers for the winning team and book sets for the school. Gary provides the much sought-after team medals and cup for the winning team (which the successful school will take away until next competition) and for the runner up. Mapleton State School will be trying their best to make sure it remains with them.
Rosetta Books’ Peta Miller, with her cutting-edge approach to books and reading, will be one of the Cup’s judges, along with University of the Sunshine Coast author and lecturer, Dr Ross Watkins, and a representative of the Friends of the Maleny Library.
Since 1985, Gary has won close to 50 awards for young adult fiction and innovative picture books which are published worldwide in translation. In 2004, he received the Wilderness Award for Children’s Writing for his Extinction Trilogy.
He particularly likes the fact that the award came in the form of a bronze platypus – an emotive symbol of his home town, Maleny. Part of his tenure as Associate Professor, Creative Writing, at the University of the Sunshine Coast involves community service in schools, which he undertakes with great zeal. He feels it is important for children to share time with authors, to know they are real people who enjoy reading to those for whom they write, and to freely discuss the books. To encourage them to have a go at writing themselves.
When I asked Gary what he thought of libraries today, he said he would prefer them to be quiet places to read, to think, to learn. He said the focus seemed to have moved from books to activities; libraries have become a public resource activity hub rather than a knowledge hub. He is concerned about noise levels in modern libraries, particularly with children’s activity corners contained in proximity to reading rooms.
He noted that, at his local library of Maleny, there has been discussion regarding an extension to provide spaces for the varied community needs but this has not been approved. “However,” he added, “ public libraries are a fantastic entry point for research, providing direct access for regional areas to borrowing rights from the big libraries such as the State Library of Queensland and the National Library in Canberra”.
He added that, despite Maleny being a small library, it meets the needs of the broader community. “The staff do a great job, but space is an issue.”
Some high schools are becoming paperless/bookless schools. All available on line. Gary thinks this is tragic.
by Dale Jacobsen