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Women who write: Tania McCartney

Emma Macdonald

It’s a deeply personal creative expression, an often solitary pursuit and a foray into a competitive market littered with failure. 

But it’s also an old and cherished art – introducing children to fiction through words and pictures.

Three Canberra women are making it in the world of publishing, trying to ensure the written word will always hold appeal for children and that books—and not iPads—are the ultimate vehicle for imagination.

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Tania McCartney is an award- winning author, illustrator, speaker, a past ambassador for the National Year of Reading and current ambassador for the Chief Minister’s Reading Challenge.

BOOKS. WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THEM?

Books? They are portals to other worlds. They are a comfort, a friend, an escape, a trip, an adventure, education, enlightenment, expansion, enchantment. They are as vital to a child’s life as water, air and love.

So, I think everything of them, and more. They are my everything. I write, illustrate, layout, design, typeset, edit, publish, live and breathe books. If I walk into a bookstore, the children’s section sucks me in like some kind of storytelling vortex, and my knees go so weak, I have to kneel on the floor.

WHY IS LITERATURE AND THE SKILL OF READING SO IMPORTANT?

Literacy is life-enhancing but life- changing. When I visit schools, I tell kids they can do anything in life if they read then read some more. And it’s true. The more we read, the more we expand and open ourselves to… anything.

Literature is important because children need to be inspired, uplifted and empowered. They need to feel they have a place in the world, that they belong, that they are competent and resourceful and clever. They need to access their inner creativity, and books and literacy give them that.

Books also open kids’ minds and cram wonderful stuff in there. They expand brains and hearts and very best of all – they enchant, comfort and reward.

Tania's 'Australian Kids Through the Years'

Tania’s ‘Australian Kids Through the Years’

WHAT MAKES A GOOD CHILDREN’S BOOK?

A good children’s book tells a story. 
A great children’s book invites the reader in and makes them part of
the story. This is done by offering characters and plots that kids can relate to and resonate with. Great books use delicious language, NEVER dictate or dumb things down, and go light on the messaging.

They take kids to other times and places, introduce them to jaw- dropping insights, and make them smile.

WHY DO BOOKS TRUMP TV?

Do you know what? I love TV. Good TV (in doses!) and I think, especially now, when so much of it is amazing, comparing books and TV (and film) is like comparing apples and oranges.

However, as with electronic platforms, TV fills in the gaps for you. Because
it incorporates sound and vision
and storytelling and mood, it leaves barely a scrap of room for imaginative interpretation. This is why we simply must read the book before we see the film, because the film tells you 
the story. When you read a book, you imagine the story. It becomes yours. And imagining story expands the heart and mind on so many levels, I would need another 20 pages to cover them!

BOOKS VERSUS ELECTRONICS – WHAT IS YOUR MOST PASSIONATE ARGUMENT FOR BOOKS
OVER IPADS?

When picture books were first converted to iPad, I was SO excited. They were bright, colourful, interactive, clever. We would gather around, the kids and me, and swipe through, enchanted. But then a curious thing happened. We only read them once. Never, ever went back. I can’t say the same for our dog-eared print books.

The difference between books and electronic platforms are twofold. The first is the physical experience of the book. The weight, the touch, the smell. The anticipatory, forward movement of lifting and turning a page. There’s a magic in it.

The second is the immersion factor. With electronic book versions for kids, the bells and whistles and voices and interactivity take away imaginative scope. Those indefinable extras are provided for kids and they don’t have to come up with their own. This lessens connection and emotional impact.

Oh, and books don’t need recharging.

Image: Martin Ollman

Image: Martin Ollman

WHY DO KIDS A),NOT LIKE READING AND B) FAIL TO THRIVE AT READING?

They don’t like reading because they aren’t provided with books they can fall in love with, and want more of. The right book is as individual as each child, and I’ve not yet met a kid who couldn’t eventually find something to draw them in. It may take time and patience, but it will happen. Frequent libraries!

As for those struggling to read, schools are now researching and implementing reading programs that have completely overhauled the draconian ways of the past.

I have confidence that these new skillsets will help kids overcome literacy challenges. But an early love of books and story will exponentially help, too.

If you’d like to hear Tania read two of her books, she’s appearing tomorrow morning at the National Archives of Australia as part of their Wednesday Storytime! 

She will read two of her own stories about Aussie kids from all over, throughout history. Stories will be followed by drawing and colouring activities. Best suited to preschoolers, but children under five welcome.

Happening Wednesday 15 March from 9.30-10.30am at the Arcade, the National Archives of Australia, Queen Victoria Terrace, Parkes. Entry is free and the café is open from 9am-4pm

Feature image: Martin Ollman

This article originally appeared as part of our Women Who Write article in Magazine: Back to Basics for Autumn 2017, available for free while stocks last. Find out more about Magazine here

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Emma Macdonald

Emma Macdonald has been writing about Canberra and its people for more than 20 years, winning numerous awards for her journalism - including a Walkley or two - along the way. Canberra born and bred, she’s fiercely loyal to the city, tribally inner-north, and relieved the rest of the country is finally recognising Canberra’s cool and creative credentials. More about the Author

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