Paul Jennings AM – Children’s Author – Exhibition

Three staff members with expertise in children’s literature recently headed down to Warrnambool to help celebrate the work of much-loved children’s author Paul Jennings AM.

Deakin’s Paul Venzo hosted a discussion with Jennings, with colleagues Kris Moruzi and Sue Chen joining them on the panel.


Photo (L-R): Sue Chen, Paul Venzo, Paul Jennings, Geraldine Maloney (Manager of Community Relations at Deakin’s Warrnambool campus), Kris Moruzi.

The event was part of Paul Jennings — Unreal!, a retrospective exhibition of Jennings’ work, showing at the Warrnambool Art Gallery until 24 February 2019.

The discussion covered Jennings’ approach to writing, the value of his background in speech pathology and child literacy, his connection to the local area, changes in the publishing industry, the importance of children’s literature generally, and the effects of digital culture on storytelling and publishing for young people.

Paul Venzo penned a catalogue essay to accompany the exhibition. Venzo writes: “Across three decades of authorship [Paul Jennings] has explored childhood as a space where literacy and learning come to the child reader through the representation of a wide range of childhood experiences and desires, setbacks and triumphs. His characters are not static or stilted, and absurdity is embraced as a kind of boundary-stretching of what is possible rather than simply probable. It is perhaps little wonder that his first book was titled: Unreal! (1985).

“In Matthew Ricketson’s biography of Paul Jennings, the author is quoted as saying ‘I don’t believe childhood is as good as people think it is…When children grow up, they want to have some power, some control over their lives, and they want to forget how it felt to be powerless’ (2000: xv). Jennings’ stories follow this idea, in so far as they rarely glorify or gilt-edge childhood and yet, interestingly, his young protagonists often have laudable qualities, powers even, that the adults around them fail to recognize at first glance, or do not themselves possess.

“The stories documented in this retrospective exhibition are never didactic or preachy, and yet they develop out of Jennings’ knowledge of children’s writing and his desire to promote literacy and learning through the experience of reading.”

One of Australia’s best loved storytellers, Jennings has sold millions of book and won countless awards. His work has been translated into 18 languages and turned into television series. His career began in Warrnambool, where he still lives and works.