What stories really matter to you? That’s the question being asked during this year’s Australia Reads program.
Themed ‘Stories That Matter’, virtual events include the annual Australian Reading Hour and a Sydney Opera House “excursion” that all Australian kids, teachers and families are invited to enjoy online from wherever they are, now until Friday 17 September.
Hosted by children’s author Oliver Phommavanh, with hilarious* cameos* by some of Australia’s favourite kids book creators, the Stories that Matter for Kids event for primary school students features entertaining mini-classes on how to draw with Andrew Joyner; how to tell your own story with Michael Wagner; how to read the stars in our night skies with Professor Lisa Harvey-Smith, plus Adrian Beck and Nicole Hayes commenting on all things books, footy and sport.
Participating author Michael Wagner hopes his new book The Story of Us will encourage* more bonding* within families, “so that … children feel a stronger sense of their place in the world – and even of their place in history.”
“We’re bound together by our stories and families in particular,” Wagner said. “Children get a really strong sense of their place in the world through the stories of the adults in their family – their parents, grandparents and other adults.
“A family is the end result of many, many generations that have come before. All that we know of those generations are their stories, so it’s about intergenerational* storytelling that … helps us to know and understand each other more.”
Throughout Covid, families have had very intense* periods of time with their immediate household group, but in many cases no face-to-face time with extended family like grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles. Wagner hopes the book may help fill some of those holes in terms of a family’s normal ways of gathering and sharing.
There are 24 topics in The Story of Us, covering all different sorts of life experiences, and Wagner said kids can almost interview their parents and other adults around them by choosing which page to look at. Question areas are broad and include prompts* like, ‘One of the best days of my life was…’.
Wagner recalls asking that question of one mum who sat in on a virtual session with her son.
“And of course, what was the best day of her life? It was when (her son) Nathan was born! So there’s some lovely bonding straightaway. I thought that was a really precious moment. It brings that stuff out that otherwise may not be said.
“There’s also times you were scared, times you were surprised and various other things – and I think they’re important too,” Wagner said.
While reading and writing are often activities we do alone, the Australian Reading Hour is something the whole family can enjoy together – and Wagner said that every member of the family can contribute to The Story of Us to bring the book fully to life.
“Australia Reads makes reading a communal*, public event, which celebrates it, models it and makes it fundamental* to us all,” Wagner said. “That is definitely what is at the heart of The Story of Us as well.”
The theme “stories that matter” might sound a bit grand, like a tagline* for a news and current affairs program, but Wagner insists that small stories matter too, especially the ones that matter to you.
“Those little sweet, daggy, dumb, silly, funny family stories really matter. They actually matter much more than we think. They’re frivolous* sometimes when we’re telling them, but they really matter to children. They remember those stories and they treasure them in their own way.
“My parents weren’t perfect, but they were much more forgivable when I knew their backstories*. Once you know, ‘This happened to my dad, that happened to my mum’, all is forgiven. You understand why they were doing the things they were doing.”
There does not need to be a Shakespeare* or a mysterious figure in your family tree for you to be part of an epic narrative, according to the author.
“Think of how many generations have had to occur for your family to exist as it is now – all of our histories are important, especially to us,” Wagner said.
“Within our own little family culture is a whole bunch of stories that have shaped that culture. The family thinks the way it does because this happened to grandpa and that happened to grandma, and this happened to dad or that happened to mum. That’s what you’re born into, that’s what shaped you – it’s really important, for good and for bad, for positive and negative, what it is that shaped you culturally.
“The assumptions and beliefs, all the various things we celebrate and (condemn*), that’s all the result of all these things that have happened and the only way to know what those things are is through our stories.”
“The shared story is like the glue between us all … and the more stories, the more glue. If we don’t know our own stories, our own history, we’re sort of just flying blind. If we don’t know how we got to this point … we’re rudderless* and adrift.”
This year’s Australia Reads virtual events offer kids and teachers a way to bring parents into the activities despite whatever Covid restrictions remain in place.
“Events like this can be participated in by all the family, not just the child,” Wagner said. “With an author visit to a school, a parent has no idea what went on …(but) this is all over Australia, everywhere at the same time. That’s really great – now kids in the middle of the desert in Australia can participate in this meaningfully and be just as involved as everyone else.”
For more information about Australia Reads and the virtual events, head to australiareads.org.au
Stories That Matter for Teens
For older students, podcaster and author Yumi Steynes brings together young adult authors including Danielle Binks, Sara Hagdhootsi, Will Kostakis and more. This event for later year secondary school students explores career pathways into book publishing and also showcases an interactive film based on the life of Peek Wurrung Elder Uncle Rob Lowe and the importance of truth-telling and reconciliation*.
- hilarious: very funny, amusing, entertaining
- cameos: a short, sometimes unexpected appearance, often by someone well-known
- encourage: inspire, motivate, create, persuade
- bonding: establishing, linking or building closeness based on shared experience and feeling
- intergenerational: shared between multiple generations
- intense: demanding, challenging, extreme
- prompts: reminders, cues, starters
- communal: shared, joint, common, general
- fundamental: basic, elemental, founding, essential
- tagline: catchphrase or slogan, often used to advertise or promote something
- frivolous: silly, jokey, lighthearted
- backstories: a person or character’s history or background
- Shakespeare: William Shakespeare (1564-1616), English playwright who wrote many of the most famous plays in the English language
- condemn: criticise, strongly dislike, decry, deplore
- rudderless: lacking a clear sense of one’s aims or principles, without guidance
- reconciliation: restoration, strengthening, repairing, specifically the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians
- What is the name of Michael Wagner’s new book?
- What is the theme of this year’s Australia Reads program?
- Which iconic Australian cultural institution is hosting the virtual excursions?
- How many topics are covered in The Story of Us?
- Which children’s author is hosting the Stories That Matter for Kids?
LISTEN TO THIS STORY
1. My Family Stories
Make a little gift book (or e-book if you like) of funny little stories that make you love your family and make your family special. It will be a beautiful present to read over the dinner table and to give to your Mum and Dad or another family member. This idea is what the Australia Reads online event is all about.
Your title page should be the name of your family and a heading such as ‘Why I love my family’ or ‘Why my family is so special’.
On each page answer the following sentence starters, you can add more of your own at the end if you like:
- The people in our family …
- A funny time in our house …
- The silliest family member …
- My favourite event …
- How our family celebrates special days …
- Why I feel loved …
- My most memorable day …
- Four-legged friends or pets that have enriched our lives …
Answer all these questions on different pages and collate and staple into a book. A beautiful keepsake of your life so far. You could choose to work on it further at home and keep adding to it over the years.
Time: allow 45 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Personal and Social
What is the one story that has stayed with you, you think about often, or carry with you? It could be a story you’ve read or one that’s been read aloud.
Which book character do you most admire and why?
Time: allow 15 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Critical and Creative Thinking
Wow Word Recycle
There are plenty of wow words (ambitious pieces of vocabulary) being used in the article. Some are in the glossary, but there might be extra ones from the article that you think are exceptional as well.
Identify all the words in the article that you think are not common words, and particularly good choices for the writer to have chosen.
Select three words you have highlighted to recycle into your own sentences.
If any of the words you identified are not in the glossary, write up your own glossary for them.