Hey cHEwY gum gums

It may have been a chilly weekend in canbrrrra but things were warm and fuzzy at the CBCA conference. Over 330 teacher-librarians, authors, illustrators and booksellers were there to delve into the world of funny (and some serious) books. There were many talking points raised during the 2 days, and it got me thinking as I drove back home. Hopefully these issues are the start of a dialogue that will continue long after the conference…like you can start by letting me know here and reply in this blog hehe

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Humour books and the space between

Morris Gleitzman kicked off the conference with a keynote address, unpacking humour using his own books and others including Captain Underpants, one of many heavily illustrated junior fiction books out there. He spoke about the space between stories, the unsaid parts that allow readers to make emotional connections. He wondered if this space was being taken up with loads of pictures scattered throughout the story. Morris also mentioned text with EMPHASISED words, was it too much hand-holding for the reader? He said that he the words can do the job on their own.

I think Morris had a point about readers being given space to think and make these connections. I don’t have a problem with pictures, because like he acknowledged, the text and visuals tell parallel stories, but BIG FONT words do bug me (especially when it’s obviously used to pad out a book)

Let’s talk about Aboriginal Australian history

Bruce Pascoe, who just released a junior version of Dark Emu called Young Dark Emu, wanted to give kids access to Aboriginal history. Edie Wright spoke highly of the teaching notes that accompany both versions of Dark Emu and wanted teachers to be confident in teaching Aboriginal history. You’re allowed to make mistakes.

Bruce also invited people to have a conversation about Dark Emu, to talk, discuss, argue or even fight him. What he doesn’t want people to do is response with silence. He also wants writers who want to include Aboriginal characters to actually talk to some Aboriginal people around them, to help make it authentic.

I felt this really challenged me. None of my books have aboriginal characters, which is not right, yet I feel like a teacher who hesitates in teaching Aboriginal history. I will have to step up and find a way to include them, in a meaningful manner. Watch this space.

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Female funny writers

This came up a few times in various sessions. If you look at the Top 10 children books best-sellers list, all of the funny books are written by men. So why are female funny writers underrepresented in the charts? While I can’t offer any answers, I do know that there are a ton of funny female writers. R.A Spratt is dead-set one of the funniest children authors in the last decade, and she recently topped the best-sellers list with her first Peski Kids book at this year’s Sydney Writers Festival (kids and adults books combined). Nat Ammore is crazy fun and she’ll bring on the laughs with her debut book, Secrets of a schoolyard millionaire. Then there’s Jol Temple, Jacqueline Harvey, Lesley Gibbes, Beck Stanton, Nova Weetman. Make no mistake, female funny writers have always been around and it’s only a matter of time before they burst onto the funny charts (and let’s not forget that they already rule YA, fantasy and other genres too)

You can be funny in a serious book

If every session was funny, you’d have laughter fatigue, so it was nice to look at how authors who write confronting stories add humour in their tales. Robert Newton, who just released Promise Me Happy, said that life is a mess with moments of light and shade, and humour is like releasing a safety valve. Vikki Wakefield says her books have funny dialogue because friends and family have enduring relationships that involve friendly banter and jokey insults. Everyone who wrote a serious book all said the same thing, they want to write these stories so readers can empathise with the characters and for them to have discussions from their books. Humour can help make these books more realistic and relatable.

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There are many ways to write humour

Yeah I know, it sounds like a cop-out. But I don’t think anyone expected one key formula to write funny stories.

For someone like Matt Stanton or Danny Katz, they are very intentional in developing their jokes. They use every aspect of text, visuals and design to pull punchlines and gags whenever you turn the page.

For others like Adam Cece or Morris Gletizman, it’s about the character and humour comes naturally through their quirks and while they may not call themselves funny writers, they still have hilarious moments seep out of their character’s journey.

And for myself? Well, I am all about being the opposite of normal. And when almost every session was supposed to be funny, I wondered how my own was going to go, seeing as I was on second-last in the program, the tail end of the weekend.

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So yeah, I analysed each session through my comedian’s lens and see what worked and didn’t. Thankfully none of the sessions had what Matt Cosgrove and Peter Carnavas were planning…we called ourselves the misfits, the leftovers of the program and ran a loose session of some planned and off-the-cuff jokes, questions and banter.

Oh, and we also dressed up. I must admit, if anyone rocked up on stage in costume, I would have had to up the ante and turn up in my underwear or something. Because that’s what comedy really is…a surprise.

So yeah, we had heaps of fun. I just felt happy to be there. We all were. And I wanted to make sure that Matt, Peter and I had a group-hug on stage, because well, even if we weren’t going to be the funniest session, we were determined to be the friendliest 🙂

If you have any other further thoughts, let me know, here or on my Twitter or Facebook Fan Page.


About the author

I'm an author, stand-up comedian and teacher. My books include Thai-riffic!, Con-nerd, Punchlines and The Other Christy. I'm a massive Nintendo fan and love eating burgers. Follow me on Twitter or Instagram @oliverwinfree


  1. Dave Leys says:

    04/06/19 @ 8:10 am 

    Thanks, Oliver, for giving us your takeaways from the conference. Sounds like some gentle chiding of some aspects of contemporary children’s publishing from Morris Gleitzman – which I think is only right and proper coming from an elder statesman of the craft. Would have loved to be there in person -maybe I can make it down to a future conference. All the best

  2. Oliver says:

    04/06/19 @ 8:14 am 

    Thanks for reading Dave, hope to see you at the next conference 🙂

  3. Sally Murphy says:

    05/06/19 @ 9:34 pm 

    Great wrap-up Oliver. I agree it was a well balanced program with lots of laughs and lots of time for reflection. Your session was great and, at a time of the weekend where the audience were perhaps a bit weary, a really good lift in energy. Well done.

  4. Oliver says:

    05/06/19 @ 9:51 pm 

    Thanks Sally! Glad you had a great weekend as well, hopefully we’ll bump into each other at the next one, it was a hectic 2 days!

  5. Helen Edwards says:

    11/06/19 @ 9:50 am 

    Great summary of such a jam-packed weekend! Agree with all of your major points. It was lovely to actually meet you IRL – I missed your session sadly, but loved following your live tweets too!

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