Through My Eyes: The Process of Creating and Editing a Book Series

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Dinner Meeting Report, 16 April 2014

Refugees are a hot topic in our community at the moment. One issue that is not often discussed is how child refugees adapt to their new life in Australia. Coming from a different and often dangerous place, refugee children may have had broken schooling and experience difficulties relating to other children at their new school. A shared love of stories, however, may be the key to better understanding. Teacher Lyn White saw an opportunity to expand children's knowledge of contemporary conflict zones and promote informed empathy among young readers. The Through My Eyes series gives insight into the lives of children whose lives have been forever changed by war.

The first three books in the six-book fiction series have already been released: Shahana by Rosanne Hawke, Amina by JL Powers and Naveed by John Heffernan. Emilio by Sophie Masson, Malini by Robert Hillman and Zafir by Prue Mason will be published in June 2014, September 2014 and March 2015 respectively. Promoted as 'stories of courage, resilience and hope', these books offer an insight into the experience of children from contemporary conflict zones and, as Lyn says, promote a 'global perspective'.

As a librarian and ESL teacher, Lyn White has always promoted a lifelong love of reading. Her work with immigrant and refugee children in the community made her aware of a gap in resources for helping children understand the lives of some of their classmates.

Through her work, Lyn met many young children who had moved to Australia as refugees. Her connection with one seven-year-old Somali girl named Mariam inspired her to create the series. Lyn had received many requests from her students for more books like the Parvana series by Deborah Ellis, Lyn knew that there were historical stories about children in world wars, but very few books for younger readers about contemporary war zones. She decided to use her teaching skills and experience with refugees to initiate this new series herself.

 

Lyn White speaks to Editors Victoria members and guests

At the dinner meeting on Wednesday 16 April, Lyn told us a little bit about being a series editor and the process of creating a series, from pitching the idea to selling the books into schools.

Lyn approached one of her publishing contacts with a detailed proposal for a six-book series, which would include integrated learning resources for teachers and students. The focus of the stories was to be on contemporary conflict zones, with an emphasis on the three pillars of Culture, Conflict and Identity. Lyn already had several authors in mind, including John Heffernan and Rosanne Hawke. Her hard work paid off and the series was accepted by Allen & Unwin, with Lyn as series editor.

The books are linked to the Australian curriculum, with teaching extras such as conflict timelines, a glossary (to promote understanding of cultural words and ideas) and further reading via online resources to make it easy for teachers to integrate the books into their lessons. In an effort to provide a comprehensive learning experience, Lyn included links to UNICEF resources in the Teaching and Learning Guides she designed for each book.

One of the biggest challenges Lyn faced was maintaining the integrity of the series. It was important to balance the authors' freedom to write unique stories with the need to link the books to themes such as Courage, Survival, Culture and Family. Some of the core aims of the series were to represent different genders and ages, balance reality with hope, and provide an authentic child's voice that maintained respect for the culture and conflict.

Lyn found great success in allowing author 'ownership' of each title, while still providing helpful editorial guidance. At the dinner, Lyn mentioned that John Heffernan had remarked that while sometimes writing for a series can feel restricting, that was never the case with Through My Eyes. Lyn had managed to construct the series like an 'umbrella', supporting the authors while still leaving them free to work their own magic with the story.

The first three books in the Through My Eyes series

The reaction to the series has been overwhelmingly positive, with one librarian ordering copies of Naveed for every Year 7, 8 and 9 child in the school! Shahana by Rosanne Hawke was named in the Children's Book Council of Australia notables list for Younger Readers in 2014. The books are still selling well - Shahana has sold more than 8000 copies and is now in its second printing, as is Amina by JL Powers.

Kate McDonell