I recently had the honour of meeting 40 wonderful students from Sefton High School and their teachers at The Children’s Bookshop in Beecroft. I spoke for about an hour about Empire of the Waves, the history of myth and fantasy storytelling (from ancient Greece to the Marvel Cinematic Universe), and – of course – about North Korea. Students of all ages are always interested in my research into the culture of the DPRK.
Over the course of the hour, we explored different traditions of fantasy world building and storytelling, typified by the approaches (on the one hand) of J.R.R. Tolkien and Ursula LeGuin, and (on the other hand) of C.S. Lewis and J.K. Rowling. It was agreed that both approaches are equally compelling, yet opened different possibilities for world building.
Importantly, we also talked about ways that fantasy literature is not merely a source of “escape” (although it can be that), but also a potent means of engagement with the biggest questions in our lives, about love and war, life and death, friendship, family, and the deep mysteries of God or gods and our own existence in this strange cosmos. In the Q&A afterwards, and in the signing queue, the conversation continued. Given the chance, young people love going straight after the Big Questions and it was inspiring to see these students thinking so deeply and critically.
I was at The Children’s Bookshop in Beecroft at the invitation of Paul Macdonald and Beth Macdonald. Anyone who works in the world of children’s books in Australia will know, by reputation (if not in person) these two remarkable people and their extraordinary store. The Children’s Bookshop is not merely one of the best bookstores in NSW, it is also one of the key cultural hubs in Australia.
Paul and Beth Macdonald (and their stellar staff) have been among the most steadfast supporters of my writing since the publication of Empire of the Waves, and many other Australian authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults share my abiding gratitude for Paul and Beth’s dedication to reading and writing for young people in this country. Everywhere I go I hear the same refrain, Paul and Beth are incredible! Indeed, to hear Paul give one of his talks about Australian children’s literature and YA literature is to be sure that Australian writing has a bright future, even if the challenges it faces are often stark indeed. Through The Children’s Bookshop Speakers Agency, I have had the opportunity to visit many Australian schools since 2016 and I look forward to more in the future.
So thank you Beth and Paul!