Meeting Sefton High: In Praise of The Children’s Bookshop in Beecroft

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!

Fol­low The Chil­dren’s Book­shop on Insta­gram to fol­low Paul’s Book Trails!
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