Sunday, March 13, 2011

Sunday Salon: Inside a Dog relaunch

"Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside a dog, it's too dark to read"  - Groucho Marx

I had the good fortune last Tuesday night to go to the relaunch of the Inside A Dog website which is a project of the Centre for Youth Literature, part of the State Library of Victoria. The site was originally launched back in 2006 and in the opening remarks, the representative of the State Library pondered the changes that have occurred since then when talking about how the site was looking a bit tired. Some of those changes were huge - the online world has come a long way in just 5 years!

Now, with the relaunch, kids will have an up to the minute website which has social networking elements so they can connect with other readers via targeted and peer recommendations, book clubs and forums, read reviews of books, read blogs each month from a writer in residence, and in addition there will be resources for teachers, librarians and parents with a strong focus on Australian authors. There will also be a strong focus on other reading focused initiatives such as the Victorian Premier's Reading Challenge, an initiative of the Victorian government to encourage reading for school age kids, and the Inkys awards (international awards for teenage literature that are voted for online by the readers of

That doesn't mean that everything from the old website has been ditched. The best parts have been incorporated into this next generation website. I, for one, was very pleased to see that the Writers in Residence feature is continuing. Over the years there have been many excellent authors featured as the Writer in Residence for a month including Margo Lanagan, Justine Larbalestier and Markus Zusak. This month the resident is Brian Falkner.

In addition to getting a guided tour of the new site by Adele Walsh (who is well known through the YA community thanks to her Persnickety Snark blog) and her trusty assistant, we were also treated to a speech from New Zealand YA author Bernard Beckett who was in Australia for the Perth Writer's Festival and had stopped off in Melbourne as part of his trip. I had only heard Bernard's name for the first time the week before during of Kiwi YA themed #spbkchat, so as soon as I saw that he was a special guest, I was pleased that I at least knew a little something about him.

Bernard Beckett is a teacher as well as an author, and so he was well qualified to speak to a room full of people who were predominantly teachers and librarians, and he was a lively, engaging and entertaining speaker. The main point of his talk was how to engage kids about books. He started with a comparison of how many students are confident if you ask them to discuss film, and will share their opinions freely, but ask them to do the same thing for literature, and the response is completely different. So often books in schools are taught in terms of right and wrong, so that when examination time comes, the students know there is a right answer, but are not confident that they know the right answer.

Bernard talked about instead trying to allow the students to discover answers for themselves using tools like Inside a Dog and other online content, and if a student appears to be heading in a wrong direction with their research, then some gentle redirection is better than a "you are wrong". This inevitably led to a question about getting results given that literature is an examinable subject, but if a young person is passionately interested in literature it will be easier to teach them than those who are disengaged from the very beginning of the subject.

Thanks to CYL we all received a copy of Bernard Beckett's new book, August (published by Text Publishing), and I bought a copy of Genesis thanks to the #spbkchat the week before where there was a lot of praise for his book.

For another recap of the event be sure to check out Literary Life. Megan who runs that site is a passionate Melbourne YA blogger and it was a great pleasure to meet her, and to meet Adele for the first time as well.

I have spent a little time exploring the site over the last few days, and as a parent of a 12 and a half year old boy who is a reluctant reader, I will be more than happy for him to spend time Inside a Dog.


  1. Oh I really liked Genesis now I'll have to look for August. Sounds like a great program and an informative event. I would have like to have heard Beckett speak.

  2. I like what he said about young people discussing films versus books. When I teach a class where we look at films, the students have so much to say. They feel like experts without ever having had a class, and in a lot of ways they are. It'd be good if they could bring that kind of confidence to books.

  3. Very good pointers about how to "gently redirect" readers....much better than the right vs. wrong approach.

    Great post! So much food for thought.


  4. "He started with a comparison of how many students are confident if you ask them to discuss film, and will share their opinions freely, but ask them to do the same thing for literature, and the response is completely different." Oooo. This really made me think. Why do we do this?

    Here is my Sunday Salon post:
    Do you have any recommendations for good books about New York City?

  5. This was a great post and it's something that I am going to want my kids to check out. They are big readers, and I think that the ability to connect with others like them would be incredible. Thanks for sharing this with us!

  6. Zibilee, another fun aspect for your kids might be connecting with Aussie readers.

    Deb, one of the reasons given was that idea of there are right answers in relation to literature, whereas for film we allow kids to discover answers for themselves, and to freely have opinions.

    Glad you enjoyed it Laurel.

    Robyn, exactly, and so what the speaker was suggesting was ways to allow kids that freedom with books!

    Beth, I enjoyed listening to him a lot.