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Johanna Bell wins the 2017 Book of the Year; Early Childhood

Since School Captain, Johanna Bell, graduated from PLC Sydney in 1999, she has made it her life's mission to improve the low literacy levels in very remote Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory.

Johanna originally teamed up with Tennant Creek artist Dion Beasley to create their first children’s book, Too Many Cheeky Dogs, which was set in a remote Indigenous community and tells the story of a group four-legged furry friends who get up to no good. Go Home, Cheeky Animals is her lively follow-up to Cheeky Dogs, where the camp is invaded by all kinds of cheeky feral animals who are finally chased away by the resident cheeky dogs. 

Johanna came up with the idea for these books when she was working as an education researcher in remote schools. She noticed that many of the classrooms she visited only contained books about foreign ideas, such as going to the zoo or the beach. Many of the children had very low literacy levels, where English was a second or third language and struggled to understand some of the concepts. 

Johanna was keen to find a subject that the children could relate to. She decided on dogs as they were a familiar sight in almost every community she visited.

Johanna’s canine characters were brought to life by the illustrations of Dion Beasley. His distinctively cheeky cartoon dogs have been shown in art galleries in Darwin and throughout Australia. Dion’s work is all the more remarkable as he is profoundly deaf and has muscular dystrophy. In order to collaborate with Dion on the project, Johanna learned sign language so she could communicate with him. Both Dion and Johanna hoped that the stories would connect particularly with Indigenous students and, in doing so, help build their English literacy skills. 

Winner of CBCA (Children's Book Council of Australia) Book of the Year, Early Childhood 2017, Go Home, Cheeky Animals has also been short-listed for the Speech Pathology Australia Book of the Year - Indigenous Children 2016.

With a background in social research and project management, Johanna has worked both as a producer for ABC radio and writer. She is also Creative Director of SPUN: True Stories Told in the Territory, a live storytelling event showcasing some of the extraordinary people and their stories that make up the Northern Territory. Johanna started SPUN to celebrate local stories, spark conversations and connect people through storytelling.

Johanna currently runs her own business - storyprojects.com.au - a consultancy that specialises in integrating stories into program design, delivery and evaluation to improve social outcomes. 

For more information about Johanna, the book or to purchase a copy, visit www.toomanycheekydogs.com.au or go to www.storyprojects.com.au

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 Image: Johanna Bell with illustrator Dion Beasley