Sandra Bennett has been writing children’s stories for as long as she can remember. Right from her childhood in the early 1970’s Sandra used her imagination to develop adventure stories from where she lived in the southern suburbs of Sydney, Australia. It was an idyllic time when all the neighbourhood kids went outside to play in the morning and didn’t come home until they were called in for dinner that night. They ran around, rode bikes, climbed trees and played games that all furthered her mind’s thoughts and curiosity.
The family dog, a beautiful black Labrador, was her trusty steed that happily followed wherever she would go. The boy next door was the villain of every tale, ever ready for a mulberry fight that pelted down from on high. The war would rage until exhaustion and laughter ceased the battle. Inevitably all involved would lose, slinking home to irate mums as they discovered the purple stains of mulberry juice all over their children’s clothes, hair and discolouring fingers. Sandra’s loyal friends and older sister were faithful companions willing to thwart whatever danger she thought they might encounter.
Whether being chased through building sites of timber framed houses still under construction, or sneaking along the storm water drain that cut through the suburb and served as a short cut between homes, Sandra and her friends believed they were always invincible.
The scenes were set, the seeds of stories planted as Sandra grew into young adulthood. She won her first writing competition at the age of sixteen, an ANZAC poem written in memory of the soldiers of WW1 for the NSW Return Services League.
Although Sandra wanted to write for children she was hungry to learn more and share that knowledge with children. She gained her Diploma of Teaching Primary and embarked on her teaching career. Throughout the twenty-five years of teaching experience she has taught Kindergarten to year 6, literacy assistance, English as a Second Language and Languages Other Than English to children in Sydney, the Central Coast, Canberra and overseas in Thailand. While teaching and raising three boys of her own, she also gained a Graduate Certificate in ESL/LOTE and completed a Diploma in Children’s Writing as well as several short story writing courses.
All the while Sandra continued to write for children and family. While living in Thailand she wrote many stories of her families adventures and encounters experiencing some of the quirky differences of living and teaching in a completely different culture. Once she returned to the classroom teaching on the Central Coast of NSW and later in Canberra, Sandra furthered her writing by writing stories for the children in her classes, especially when she taught the early years of education. Here she felt writing her stories encouraged her students to want to learn to read as they were having fun reading about themselves.
Sandra has taken those collective years of experience and knowledge from within the classroom as well as successfully raising her own sons to University level and is now combining it in a weekly blog to help parents with their own children’s reading at home. The blog is titled Raising Awesome Readers and can be found at http://gingerbreadaliens.blogspot.com.au.
In 2011 she won two short story writing competitions. The first being a Halloween short Story Contest with her story titled “A Renovator’s Delight”. A spine tingling Halloween party romp through an old English Pub where the guests experience a little bit more fright than they bargained for. The second short story was a Children’s Writing Contest Sandra won with her tale of “Emma the Emo Emu,” who during the course of events very subtly learns to appreciate her unique differences and to never give up but keep on trying. After receiving rave reviews for this story Sandra hopes to one day find the right illustrator to turn this delightful tale into a beautiful picture book for early readers.
Sandra has settled with her family on a tranquil little property just outside of Canberra where the nearest neighbours are the kangaroos that wander through the paddocks each morning and afternoon. Sometimes if the family is lucky they even get the odd visit by a wombat or echidna, but Sandra doesn’t like it when the snakes come to visit in the heat of the summer. Mostly she only sees the wombats when coming home late at night and they are out on the road foraging for food, but they often leave their calling card (droppings) on rocks around the paddocks. Most days her gardens are also filled with the chatter of Easter Rosellas, pink galahs and warbling magpies that tend to swoop when they are nesting every spring. Some mornings the yellow crested cockatoos come screeching in for a feed and land on the roof like a herd of elephants.
The rabbits are always making burrows where they shouldn’t and there’s usually a fox’s den somewhere on the land. Sandra’s old dog use to sniff out the foxes and move them on but now he’s no longer with the family, their younger dog hasn’t really picked up the same idea. She’s a gorgeous fluffy white Japanese Spitz that doesn’t have the same instincts as a mischievous Jack Russell cross Fox Terrier.
They have even been known to have wild boar digging in the mud after heavy rain along their creek bed. The boar once ventured up into the top paddock (a bit too close to the house) which Sandra admits worried her somewhat. Serenity it may be, away from the hustle and bustle of city life, a place to be inspired and write but uneventful it never is!
And now from the author herself:
As a little girl I always dreamed of becoming a teacher and sharing my stories with the children in my classes to encourage and improve literacy skills. I believe Literacy skills are the building blocks to all further education. Once you can read you can learn anything and grow to become whatever your dreams desire. Over the years I have been lucky enough to have the opportunity to fulfil that dream and watch it blossom into a reality.
From as early as I can remember I loved books and reading. I read everything I could get my hands on. I would read to my sister, my parents, my teddy bear and dolls. It wasn’t long before I played “school” with my childhood friends where I was always the teacher determined to inspire my friends to want to read. It was inevitable that I continued my passion when I became an adult as literacy skills had become so important to me.
Some of my greatest joyful memories are of moments shared with struggling readers who finally begin to succeed. A smile slowly spreads across their face as the realisation sets in that after all the hard work and effort, they too, can now read! That is the reason I began writing for the children in my classes. I found that when I wrote adventures that included them, they could not only relate to the story, they became more involved and immersed in the story. The children would want to read the stories over and over again, creating great reading practice opportunities for them that they really enjoyed. One year I wrote a story about a white lion cub (stuffed toy) that came to join our class. He had lots of adventures with the children including myself during school holiday breaks. The class enjoyed the stories so much that even four years later they still asked me how he was and if he and one of the books could make a return special guest visit.
The more children’s books I read the more stories I wanted to write myself. The more I wanted to share my stories with children other than those I taught. I came up with the idea for my book Gingerbread Aliens after a bit of a mishap in my own kitchen some years ago. My sons and I were attempting to make a loaf of bread when suddenly we smelt smoke wafting from the bread maker. Instead of rushing over to rescue the loaf, I stood there and pondered. “There’s a story in that!” I smiled to my boys. An idea was already growing in my head. Eventually I thought to turn off the bread maker and dump out the now ruined loaf, while thoughts swirled around and around, tumbling out faster than I could write them down. Before I knew it I had the threads of the plot, the characters began to evolve, I had my first book I wanted to write and share with the world.
Gingerbread Aliens is packed full of intrigue, fun and hilarious moments as three mischievous brothers discover the snow balling effects of their mistakes rather than facing the consequences of their initial disaster! It is an entertaining short chapter book for young readers, reluctant readers and ESL students. When three cheeky brothers, cooking in their mother’s kitchen, accidentally mix cooking ingredients with a science experiment, a disaster spins a turn of events that spiral unexpectedly out of control. The nosy next-door neighbour tells a whopper of a tale and the Principal is forced to close the school. Is it a rock? Is it a football? Is it the charred remains of a spaceship and its strange looking alien inhabitant? All will be revealed with comedy and a whole lot of fun.
The Australian National Eisteddfod has honoured me by selecting Gingerbread Aliens for the children to use in their 2013 Championship Section of Speech and Drama Division for Ten years and under. The co-ordinator said she was looking for a book the children would enjoy reading and working with to develop role plays and monologues. Gingerbread Aliens will be a perfect book to use and I look forward to attending the event and presenting awards to the winners.
I am now working on the rest of the series. Initially I planned a three part series, however as the plot thickened to quote one of my favourite authors, Douglas Adams, it will now be “a trilogy in five parts”. Book two “Alien Shenanigans” is almost complete and should be ready for release mid this year.
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