When Worlds Collide – A Life Enriched by Books and Volunteering

Oh, how I love it when my worlds collide in the most unexpected ways! I’d like to share with you a beautiful experience I had early last December during my day volunteering at a Melbourne children’s hospital library. But first some background…

scholastic-reading
Author and literacy volunteer Emma Bowd at The Book Bunker – the Scholastic Children’s Library at RCH Melbourne

Being a writer is a very solitary existence. So in early 2016, I made a resolution to reach out to the big wide world – both ‘real’ and ‘cyber’ – with more literary outings and professional development, plus a complete revamp of my online ‘author presence’. Cue attendances at some brilliant writing courses and seminars; conducting classroom writing workshops; and the emergence of ‘Emmabowdauthor’ across several online platforms – with the pleasant realisation that Facebook was actually quite interesting and informative, and Instagram was my new passion/obsession 🙂 But there was more to come…

Prior to becoming a writer, I worked as an Occupational Therapist for 12 years – both in Australia and London. Imagine my excitement one Sunday evening early last year when I was scrolling through Instagram and saw a ‘shout out’ by the highly respected Melbourne children’s bookstore the ‘Little Bookroom’, about a new children’s library called The Book Bunker, which was being established at Melbourne’s prestigious Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH)  – and it needed volunteers. This perfect meeting of my worlds was too good to be true. A few emails, plus a hurried update of my ‘Police Check’ and ‘Working With Children’ accreditation and I was at RCH within the fortnight – volunteering each Tuesday from 10am to 2pm at The Book Bunker. And what a wonderful year it proved to be!

The Book Bunker – The Scholastic Children’s Library at Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne

IMG_20160531_173728The Book Bunker at RCH opened in May 2016 with over $200,000 worth of books donated by Scholastic Australia, covering all age ranges from board books and picture books; to early readers, chapter books, young adult novels and non-fiction books. It’s staffed entirely by volunteers like myself. And while I come from a medical/literary background, other volunteers come from fields such as librarianship and teaching, and we’re all on a roster which keeps the library open from Monday through to Saturday.

Why a Library in a Children’s Hospital?

My experiences at The Book Bunker have reinforced to me the importance of access to books via a free library system for ALL children (both sick and well) as a source of entertainment, diversion, intellectual enrichment and socialization.  And I can honestly say that no week at The Book Bunker has ever been the same.

For mentally and physically exhausted parents, a visit to The Book Bunker is often a quiet bubble of calm away from the flashing lights and beeping monitors of the ward. A place where they can select books to take back to their child; as well as to share with other siblings who can often become momentarily neglected, through no fault of their own, in the stressful situation of having a sick family member.  The books that parents and children choose are often long-time favourites which bring a small sense of 'home' and familiar routines to the foreign medical environment.

Book Bunker volunteers also deliver books directly to the wards via a 'book trolley' for the many children and families who cannot leave their rooms and visit the library. On other occasions, the library can be a loud and raucous space - with craft activities and book readings to large groups of children. And thanks to Scholastic, we were lucky enough to have a special visit from famous author Mem Fox and illustrator Judy Horacek - which created much fanfare and fun throughout the hospital.

A Special Summer’s Day at The Book Bunker

A summer’s day at The Book Bunker doesn't get much better for this former Occupational Therapist turned writer and literary hospital volunteer...

During the summer I’ve noticed a lot more families visiting The Book Bunker – often with multiple siblings in tow, due to the school holidays. Many have travelled long distances from country Victoria or from interstate to be cared for as Inpatients or to attend Specialist Outpatient Clinics (with notoriously long waiting times).

Last year, on Melbourne’s first true summer’s day, following our Arctic spring, the thermometer outside nudged the mid 30’s and I welcomed a dad and his 1 year-old and 6 year-old sons to The Book Bunker. He told me in precise, slow, heavily-accented English that they’d just come from a town west of Geelong, and were all a little hot and weary after a very early start to the day. But they were all smiling – surprised and delighted to have stumbled upon a ‘library in a hospital’. A place that they immediately decided to spend the long wait for the older boy’s Outpatient’s appointment.

The 6 year-old boy gleefully told me that he had just finished Prep and that he really liked books. His face lit up as he walked around and found that his favourite books from his 'school library' were also in his 'hospital library'. He couldn’t believe his luck! Tucking each book under his arm, he asked me to read some of them to him; before summoning the courage to ask if he could instead read the books to me.

“I’m very good at reading,” he said, with the unaffected conviction of a 6 year-old. “I’m the first in my family to go to school. I’m very clever.”  He shot a grin to his dad who replied in equal measure with a warm wide smile, which seemed to engulf his entire face, and proud eyes which danced around his son.  The dad shared that he had come to Australia 7 years ago from Sudan, and that his son is a very diligent student at school who also teaches the entire family how to speak English.

Then, in a rush of excitement, the dad picked up his mobile phone and gave it to the boy to show me the screen. Displayed on it was his son’s recent school report from Prep. Both the boy and the dad insisted that I read it – I must! They could not contain their excitement as they observed my eyes scanning the screen. And I have to say that their excitement was entirely warranted – an achieved reading level of Year 2 among the accomplished results. The dad had the report as his screen saver on his mobile phone. And I have no doubt that it had been shown to many people before me; and will be shown again to many people after me.

With a small mountain of books read; inquisitive questions about bears, dinosaurs, piranhas, dogs, bees and escargots answered; a toddler occupied with craft activities and board books; and a dad rested – a piercing beep on the mobile phone announced that their doctor was ready to see them. A quick flurry of activity to gather together belongings and they were on their way – a happy trio waving goodbyes and sincerely thanking me for their time at The Book Bunker.

20170130_185224
What a privilege it had been to spend Melbourne’s first real summer's day in the company of such a proud parent and his motivated, engaging young sons at The Book Bunker.

The eldest son being the first in his family to EVER attend school; is excelling at school and teaching his entire family how to speak English; is being cared for by the expert medics at RCH; and delights in reading books from his 'school library' at his 'hospital library'.

My world has most definitely been enriched by volunteering experiences like this at The Book Bunker - it really is wonderful when your worlds collide!


Writer in Residence

pencil-pandemonium-and-bookmarks

I’m delighted to share my experience of being Ardoch Youth Foundation’s ‘Writer in Residence’ at Sunshine Primary School, where I recently conducted a weekly story writing workshop for two Grade 3 and Grade 4 classes – culminating in the illustrated story book ‘Pencil Pandemonium’.  The programme ran during one school term and involved 5 weeks (10 hours) of classroom workshops and many more hours of writing and editing outside the classroom.

Pencil Pandemonium reflects how a school community can come together to foster literacy – coupled with the good will of Ardoch, an author and a printing business.

Before I explain a little more about the process of how we wrote the book, here’s a joyous slideshow of our Book Launch on Friday 14th October, in brilliant sunshine (of course!). With the inspirations for our story – the six majestic pencil art installations – sharing the limelight.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The book launch also would not have been possible without the support of Ardoch Youth Foundation and Bizworks Brighton Printing. Nor would it have been complete without Rob – the school handyman.  Rob works one day/week and spent a whole year making the giant pencils for the school 🙂  He was so excited to be a part of our book launch and quietly chuffed that six coloured pencils could inspire a story which is now part of the school’s folklore.  The pencils all have names too – Baxter Blue, Yuki Yellow, Olympia Orange, Penelope Purple, Gilbert Green and Roger Red – and the children talk to them each day!

These six huge pencils have inspired the imaginations of a class and an entire school. The physical structures stand proudly at the school’s entrance – announcing to all the vibrancy and ingenuity of what lies within. A brilliant example of how art lives and breathes in our community and can spark great things!

I’ve conducted my story writing workshops over the past 10 years, and this is the first time that I’ve been invited to an Ardoch partner school.  I’ve always provided the workshops ‘pro bono’ as part of my commitment to early literacy and to share my love of storytelling and story writing.  The dozens of hugs, enthusiastic smiles and messages I got from the Sunshine Primary students about their love of Pencil Pandemonium cannot be measured in monetary terms. And I urge any writers reading this to consider being a ‘Writer in Residence’ for Ardoch or a similar literacy charity, too.

My workshops are a little unusual, compared to other authors, in that I’m very clear with the children and their teachers that I will write the story – with the assistance of the children. I explain to the children that we will put all of ‘my ideas’ and all of ‘their ideas’ into a giant washing machine, and we’ll mix them all up and put a wonderful story together. And they’re always wonderful!

I want the children to be free to imagine and explore without the pressure of punctuation and assessment, pre-testing or post-testing. I want them to learn ‘from me’ by going along the process ‘with me’ – from blank page to printed book.

I also like to professionally print the story books at the completion of the workshops to give the children a sense that their story is real and important.  I always incorporate current learning units (in Sunshine’s case it was ‘machines’) so that the books dovetail with their curriculum. The end result is a true collaborative effort, where each child can clearly identify their input into the ‘whole’ project.  I believe that it’s important to show the students that they are ALL important contributors to the book – irrespective of their literacy proficiency levels.  For example, often some of the best ideas and ‘lightbulb moments’ during the plot-making, as well as drawings, are contributed by the students with the least strong reading and writing levels.

I’m beyond thrilled with Sunshine Primary School’s Pencil Pandemonium!  It reflects the children’s genuine love and respect for their school – something that they wanted to write about. Not all students I visit are this passionate about their school!

One of my favourite memories from this story writing experience, was after we’d finished writing the story about the pencils who sneak into the classroom at lunchtime when nobody is looking – and one of the students asked me to look out of the window, and just ‘check’ that the pencils were still there . . . What if they weren’t?  This is such a lovely example of how these children have not only had a hands-on learning experience of turning imaginings and ideas into a story . . . but they’ve kept the story alive in their heads . . . and that for me, as a writer, is what the magic is all about!

This quote from author, Michael Morpurgo’s speech, ‘The Power of Stories’ at the Inaugural Book Trust Lecture, Sept 22nd, 2016, Guildhall, London also sums this up beautifully:

“Let the children go home, simply dreaming of the story. Re-living it. Wondering at it. Loving it.”  Michael Morpurgo (2016)

 

 

 

 

Ardoch School Readiness Book Drive

 

ardoch-book-drive-robinsons-bookshop

bayside-author-emma-bowd
Author Emma Bowd – Ambassador for Ardoch’s School Readiness Book Drive 2016 (Bayside Leader, 18 Oct 2016)

I’m thrilled and honoured to be the Ambassador for education charity Ardoch Youth Foundation’s School Readiness Book Drive, which is in full swing this month of October! To read more about my passion for supporting early childhood literacy campaigns like this, please click here.

Ardoch has pledged to support 1,000 children from local disadvantaged communities who are starting school in 2017 by providing them with School Readiness Packs. Each pack contains 5 books and 5 activities to enhance their fine motor skills.

This means we need to source 5,000 children’s books for the packs before the end of the year!

My sincere thanks to the two amazing schools of Loreto Mandeville Hall Toorak and St Joan of Arc Brighton, for coordinating book collections, as well as all four Melbourne Bayside Libraries (Brighton, Beaumaris, Hampton and Sandringham).

Book Donations can also be made directly to Ardoch via online purchases from Robinsons Bookshop – who will not only deliver the books but ALSO give a 25% discount to all Book Drive books.

 

loreto-mandeville-hall-toorakst-joan-of-arc-brightonbls-logoardoch youth foundation logo

 

Book Week 2016

Two special memories from this past week of National Book Week. . .

The week started off with the exciting announcement that I am the Ambassador for Ardoch Youth Foundation’s School Readiness Book Drive. As an author, former Occupational Therapist and a mum, I am so proud and beyond thrilled to have been asked to help with this campaign, which pledges to give 1,000 children in disadvantaged areas five books and fine-motor activity packs at the end of this year, in readiness for their school start in 2017.  I’ll be writing a little more about this in coming weeks, but please click here to read about why I’m so passionate about the book drive.

ardoch book drive

Emma Bowd at Scholastic Australia Book Bunker RCH Book Week 2016

And on Tuesday, I was at my beloved weekly volunteering position at Scholastic Australia’s Book Bunker children’s library, at the Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne. I had a lot of fun with some of the Starlight Captains who popped in to visit us! We sang songs and read books – my favourite being our book-of-the-day: Tony Wilson’s award-winning and endearing ‘The Cow Tripped Over the Moon’. It’s a clever back-story about the several attempts that the cow actually made before she had a successful moon-jump. An instant classic in my mind, with a special message of courage, determination, perseverance and the help of your friends.

 

What Makes a Great Kids Story?

I recently had the pleasure of attending a Melbourne book signing, by the best selling children’s author, Jacqueline Harvey.  Of course, it was a beautifully girlie affair (though I did note a couple of dads!) with cupcakes and cordial, and much chat about Alice-Miranda and Clementine Rose.

What I wasn’t expecting, was to promptly change from my ‘mum hat’ into my ‘author hat’ when Jacqueline asked the audience of passionate, articulate 7-9 year olds, “What makes a great kids story?”

Cue a flurry of enthusiastically raised hands, and a swift lesson in storytelling, that no writers’ conference could ever have provided!  So, here goes, from the mouths of babes:

What Makes a Great Kids Story?

  • Straight to the POINT (NO long intros…YAWN)
  • NO adults
  • Characters that I WANT TO BE
  • A BRAVE main character
  • ADVENTURE
  • Story set in INTERESTING PLACES
  • Mystery – a PROBLEM to be SOLVED
  • FUN!

I Own a Word!

Delicious - Emma Bowd Owns A Word

I’ve just bought myself the best Easter treat:  a word.  Yes, a word!  How exciting for an author to own a word.  All in support of one of my favourite children’s literacy charities:  Melbourne’s Ardoch Youth Foundation. But just like chocolate…how can I possibly be expected to stop at one word!

Ardoch Own A Word - Delicious - Emma Bowd