The Early Childhood Australia National Conference

The Early Childhood Australia National Conference was held at the Darwin Convention Centre from October 5 to 8.

What a great experience it turned out for me, to participate, as both Children’s Laureate and artist and author at The Early Childhood Conference in Darwin. Presenting to a packed room full of enthusiastic, dedicated and sparky individuals, it was impossible to not get back as much as one gave in the session. Of course, what links everyone in one way or another is the well being of children and the preciousness of childhood.

– Leigh Hobbs

leigh-signing-close-up-smallLeigh Hobbs, as Australian Children’s Laureate, was invited to speak and participate in this inspiring and very well attended conference with 2000 delegates from all over Australia and South East Asia. ACLA and the Laureate program were promoted on the Books Illustrated stand, adjacent to, and generously sponsored by, AISWA (Association of Independent Schools, Western Australia).

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There was a strong representation from Indigenous centres from remote, regional and urban communities, including practicing artists and teachers and an emphasis on learning through the arts.  Stellar overseas keynote speakers included Professor Carla Rinladi (Italy), Claire Warden (Scotland), Maria Aarts (Netherlands) and Dr Chip Donohue (USA).
Congratulations to the ECA, having been so actively involved in this area of education for years – believing in its vital importance for the foundation for resilient, empathetic and creative citizens of the future. They presented a very full program of memorable sessions. It's exciting to see, in this vital sector, growing attention and acknowledgement given to the importance of play, experiential learning, particularly learning through nature. Long may it last, and draw the focused attention and financial and governmental support it deserves.

After Leigh’s keynote address there were many visitors to the stand hoping to meet him and tell him how important his talk had been. They went away re-inspired and with his 'It’s Your Story' Calendar, often specially signed by Leigh, tucked under their arms.

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Leigh’s Session

Leigh's session proved to be popular with participants arriving well ahead of time before there was a lockout due to popularity. As Children’s Laureate, and in his own right, Leigh spoke from the heart about his work and the sense of wonder children have with his books and characters. There was a very clear focus on children and childhood and the interaction between Leigh’s work and the child’s playful mind.

Once the keynote was over there was almost a riot at the conference bookshop where enthused participants queued to have books signed and to meet Leigh. Within less than an hour the bookshop had sold out of Leigh’s books.

I must thank Leigh for his generosity to do this most important work and the continuing influence he brings to the importance of story and literature in young people’s lives.

Ron Gorman, ACLA Chair
Deputy Director, AISWA
(Association of Independent Schools, Western Australia)

An Inspiring Conference

We managed to see some of the sessions and were inspired particularly by the emphasis on experiential learning, learning through nature and the importance of exploring and personal discovery through play. Claire Warden, Scotland; Carla Rinaldi, Italy; Maria Aarts (what a name!), Netherlands and our own Senator Malarndirri McCarthy were particularly memorable.

There were delegations from many Indigenous communities including many practicing artists and elders promoting their creative programs and effectiveness of learning through the arts.

Ann Haddon & Ann James, Books Illustrated

We’d like to thank the following people for their permission to print their responses to Leigh’s session.

After his session, a teacher asked Leigh if she could bring her son, a huge fan of Leigh’s books, to the conference the following day to meet him. It was an important meeting for both Leigh and Alex!

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Alex’s mum’s thank you text:

Hi Leigh,
Alex has not stopped talking about meeting you! We had to go to the store and buy a book for him to jot his ideas and pictures in just like you! Thanks again so much, you don’t realise how much it meant to Alex.

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Two delegates who attended Leigh’s session came to tell him how much they enjoyed and were inspired by his talk. One later emailed him a letter to put her thoughts in writing.

I went to a session by Australian Children’s Laureate, Leigh Hobbs, which I loved. It was literary and although he analysed his work it was refreshing, reviving and organic. As he shared with us I laughed and cried. Memories of his relationship with his mother gave us a lens on his Old Tom books and Mr Chicken books. Leigh Hobbs says he does not write about issues but about relationships – love between a mother and her son and a son and his mother; love of a place; how it feels to be excluded and how a teacher survives when the going gets tough …

The following day after lunch as we stood to leave Leigh Hobbs sat down at our table. My friend, Angelina writes children’s books too so when she grabbed me she said in an anguished whisper: “That’s him. That’s LEIGH HOBBS! We could have had lunch with him!!” About to go to the second most anticipated session after Carla’s, I sat down on the spot, “We still can.” She couldn’t speak but I waded in telling him how much we had loved his presentation and how we couldn’t stop talking about it and how he had made us laugh and cry. This perturbed him as he kept saying, “I wasn’t trying to be funny. I was serious.” That just made me laugh more. Laughter is good for your heart and soul. I try to indulge as often as possible. There is always a serious side to laughter.

As a teacher he was pleased to have feedback from teachers and signed posters for us both. Once my friend opened the website showcasing her books the conversation switched gears into author/illustrator mode, outside of my realm. This was their world. “YES!” I thought. “This is how we empower children when we invite them into this world. Let them create and talk about creating together and you unleash revitalising energy, joy in effect.”
“The lines breathe when the colour stops just short of the line,” says Leigh Hobbs, softly gently tracing the page. “Your covers have heart. They are so modern. Contemporary.” Angelina explains as she examines each one. She’s spot on and he’s pleased that she noticed. “Yes, they’ve never been changed. They are still published with the original covers. They don’t date.”

“The drawings are for the children. If they ‘read’ the end papers I give them all the logic they need there to make sense of the book. And I don’t go to bed at night with a children’s book. I mean the text is for the adults.” All of a sudden I recognise my uniqueness as an adult who reads children’s books. After all, some of them weren’t written yet when I was a child. I sought out and loved all the Old Tom books as a child reads and loves them but I am forced to reconsider how I read these books as Leigh HOBBS continues.
“The children know I speak as an adult to them. I don’t make it childish. Often the text says the complete opposite of what the drawings tell them but the children intuitively know. There are three views in my books. I told you about the adult’s view and the child’s perspective yesterday but I should have said there is a third view. That is the unique interpretation each child makes when the two views intersect.” He advised us to let the children discover the aspects of the design – colour, line, font, character, heart. “Show them ten covers, maybe two of mine among the others. They will intuitively know. They know what they like and more importantly why. They will give you the language to talk about the books. Let it come from the children. They see the details I hide for them in my drawings."

We never did make it to our session. But I will not forget our lesson with Leigh. It was a true reflection of Carla Rinaldi’s provocation: “Learning is an act of love.”

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