The Narelle Oliver Lecture with Morris Gleitzman
Australian Children’s Laureate for 2018-2019, Morris Gleitzman, presented the Book Links Annual Narelle Oliver Lecture on 14th June, 2018, at St Aidan’s Anglican Girls’ School.
Book Links President and children’s author Yvonne Mes introduced the lecture and Megan Daley, a passionate children’s literature advocate and award-winning teacher librarian, who shared her personal and rich memories of her dear friend and colleague, the talented author-illustrator-artist, Narelle Oliver.
From the Narelle Oliver exhibition ‘I want to be in a book’, audience members were immersed in a recreation of Narelle’s home studio and her stunning illustrative artwork. It was the perfect setting to honour Narelle and her contribution to children’s literature.
The Annual Narelle Oliver Lecture aims to raise the profile of children’s literature, to stimulate discussion and disseminate the results of current research on children’s literature. There was no better introduction to this than Morris Gleitzman’s lecture theme, ‘young people need stories more than ever’.
As an author of nearly 40 books for young people, published in around 20 countries, Morris has won numerous awards for his work both nationally and internationally. Some of his titles include Two Weeks with the Queen, Grace, Doubting Thomas, Bumface, Give Peas A Chance, Extra Time, Loyal Creatures, Snot Chocolate and the series Once, Then, Now, After, Soon and Maybe.
Morris commenced his lecture with an invitation of imaginings – to firstly imagine living as an 11 year old in Australia and to consider whether this 11 year old could share the same dreams and aspirations of their parents and grandparents. Morris highlighted how young people today face unprecedented challenges as they take over a world that is worse than previous generations – a world that feels more unsafe and uncertain with the consequences of climate change, wars, terrorism and a breakdown in human compassion and respect.
Morris discussed ‘the surface imperative in which we live’, where the modern human condition is one that glances at the surface and makes some sort of judgement based simply on the physicality of others. In a culture with glittering, fascinating surfaces full of promise and hope there is no depth and our trust in truth is waning.
It is within this backdrop, that Morris discussed how young people need stories more urgently than ever. Stories to help equip, support and inspire them as they face huge challenges in their lives. He highlighted how it is in stories that children embark on a journey with their characters who they connect with and form a relationship. These characters can teach children bravery, honesty, team work, empathy, problem-solving, resilience and how to deal with enemies.
In understanding how stories transport children into a world where they too can learn to marshal their resources, we understand how important this imaginative journey is to their developmental. Morris emphasised that as guardians we need to take these stories to where they belong, at the centre of children’s lives.
He also delighted us with his own stories, such as his ‘Book at bedtime’ promotional tour where Morris toured around Australia in his pyjamas for five weeks. In one country town, he had to rush straight from a book signing in his pyjamas to the only restaurant in town before it closed for dinner. In illustrating the surface imperative, he quoted the thoughts of the other restaurant goers, ‘isn’t that nice they let him out for the night.’
We too were grateful that ‘they let him out for the night’. Throughout Morris’ lecture we came to understand why now more than ever, children and young people need ‘stories to delight, stories to beguile, stories to inspire, stories to move deeply.
Story by Liane McDermott, aspiring author and grateful member of Book Links and Write Links.