Reasons to Cheerful – Part II

Remember, remember, the 5th of November, Gunpowder, treason and plot!

I loved Guy Fawkes night when I was a kid. My siblings and I would make an effigy of Guy Fawkes out of old clothes, build a bonfire and throw him onto the top of the burning pile. I’l never forget my old orange nylon flares bursting into flames while my sisters set Catherine Wheels spinning on the gum trees in our back garden. Every year our Dad brought home a bag of crackers; penny bungers, tom thumbs, throwdowns and scary jumping jacks. There’d also be an indulgent array of fireworks; roman candles, flowerpots, golden showers and gorgeous rockets that we set in milk bottles before sending them into the night sky. The advent of daylight savings took some of the thrill out of the night, then crackers and fireworks were banned and finally suburban bonfires became illegal.

As Australia becomes safer and more secular, many of the festive events of my childhood have lost their pizzazz. But yesterday I went to the National Gallery of Victoria to attend the awards ceremony for the Victorian Premier’s Reading Challenge and realised there’s some excellent new reasons to celebrate.

I’m seriously proud to be an Ambassador for the Challenge. I know I would have loved to have been part of it when I was a kid. No one except my mum was particularly impressed by the volume of books I read as a child. It was almost a secret vice and not something you bragged about in class. But yesterday, hundreds of kids rolled up at the NGV to celebrate their achievements as readers. During the course of this year’s Challenge 212,000 Victorian kids read 3.6 million books. According to most of these kids, ‘Reading Rules’.

Being an arty, bookish kid in 1960s Melbourne wasn’t all that cool but judging by the attitude of the funky junior readers at yesterdays event, things are a whole lot better for young booklovers these days. Frankly, things are better for readers of all of ages. There are more bookshops, more publishers, more support for readers and writers, better libraries and more opportunities to celebrate the importance of art and books in our lives.

For all the nostalgia for Guy Fawkes night, there’s still plenty of reasons to be cheerful about the things we can and do celebrate.

As an afterthought, one of my other favourite childhood festivities that’s still huge in Australia – possibly even bigger and better – is the Melbourne Cup. It helped that I had a weird dream that was both ‘Shocking’ (winner!) and about a ‘Crime Scene’ (2nd) which led me to placing a couple of very lucrative bets on Tuesday. Mysterious and magical. More reasons to be cheerful.

Kirsty is an Australian author of books for children and young adults.

“Books are windows into other ways of being.”

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