Hundreds of children poured into the Metro Hotel. Hotel guests didn’t stand a chance of catching a mid-morning snooze. These kids were excited, and if I had a decibel reader I think it would have broken. Clearly Leonie was a class favourite, and there were 10 classes sitting in front of me so you can only imagine how loud it was.
Leonie explained that she comes from the far north of Australia, up near Darwin. She told us about the crocodiles that come into the rivers in the wet season. We learned that in the dry season it is really hot and there are lots of fires. Leonie told us about how the local Aboriginal people have sung to the country for 50 000 years, and that all the spirits in the land are alive. She explained that when you are born, a local spirit child enters your body, and that makes you who you are. When you die, the spirit child returns to the earth. When another living thing comes to be, like a plant or dolphin, the spirit child enters that living being. That is the way with all things she taught.
Leonie started to tell us about her horrible, mean big brother. She said her brother used to say, “rack off midget”, and the kids cracked up. She told them it wasn’t funny, the kids laughed harder. She said the great thing about being an author is that you can put people who are mean to you into books. As she read from “Crocodile Jack”, I thought the protagonist seemed a little bit like a horrible, mean big brother.
Leonie continued to read. There was a bit about a crocodile attack and every child in the room had their eyes and ears locked onto Leonie. She sure knows how to read to kids!
“Spirit of Barrumbi” was next. The kids were told that only prep, and grades 1,2 and 3 are smart enough to know about spirits. She told a tale about her baby sister. When she was born their Aboriginal mother took her outside and rubbed some dirt onto her leg so the land would know that she belonged to it. She told the kids about the Rainbow Serpent. She told them about the sacred places where people are not allowed to go. Leonie read an excerpt where a spirit turned into a snake and punished a young boy for going to a sacred place. She then asked kids if this was possible. About half of them thought so. Leonie then asked the kids what the difference between ghosts and spirits, these kids were an imaginative lot.
Leonie admitted that she often gets too excited during the sessions and forgets to make time for the kids to ask questions. So we had a Q & A session half way through the session. The first question was about how long it takes her to write a book. She said one picture book took one day to write, but “You and Me : our place” took 9 years. She read the book which was illustrated by Dee Huxley. As she read, Dee’s pictures were shown on a huge screen to the kids could follow the story. They loved it, and a conversation about spirits and the different ways people see the world ensued.
Another child asked how old Leonie was when she started writing. Another asked if any of Leonie’s family were writers too. In answering where her ideas come from, Leonie shared tales from her own childhood including one about catching snakes. The children squealed with delight.
Leonie told us a story about how she once busted her young grandson creeping down to a crocodile infested river. This story became a book, “Croc Bait”, which Leonie proceeded to read from with great fervour. At one stage in the story the little boy in the story is swallowed by a crocodile. She asked the kids if she should let the little boy die, or do something to save him. Saving him won the vote. The kids then enjoyed coming up with ideas as to how the little boy might be saved. They were also given a chance to imagine being inside a crocodile and to describe the experience, yuck! One of the kids suggested that she wait for the little boy to come out when the crocodile poo’ed. Leonie told the kids that a crocodile poo is really long and white and that she did not want that to happen to her grandson. The laughing never seemed to end.
Leonie and the kids explored more solutions to getting the little boy out of the crocodile, all amazingly creative.
Leonie kept the kids thoroughly engaged throughout the whole presentation. I wished I was 8 years old again during this session. If I was a teacher librarian, I would be on the phone trying to book her in for a session or 2 straight away.
To find out more about Leonie, click HERE.