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I recently had the great pleasure of visiting Parkton Elementary School in Parkton, North Carolina, thanks to the wonderful Angie Tally of The Country Bookshop in Southern Pines, NC.
|Me with the amazing media specialist, Janice Gardner|
|Janice and I showing off the AMAZING cake made by Tara Bishop|
|These students made awesome projects for How to Steal a Dog (notebooks with the rules, like Georgina's). Thank you all for those!|
And because a picture's worth a thousand words, I'll let the following pictures tell you about my great day.
Two more days of Norway school visits! I wasn't entirely planning to make this visit a comics-themed visit, but comics games work so well that I've fallen into it anyway.
I'm back at my loft apartment above the art gallery, blogging on their little wooden table in front of the window overlooking the orange roofs of Skudeneshavn, with Radio Norge playing... uh... Phil Collins... in the background. This evening as I was coming home from dinner, a young couple (Peter and Lisa) spotted me and said they recognised me from Skudeneshavn's top 'feel-good book', by Svein Arthur Kallevik.
Oddly enough, Svein Arthur spotted me on London Southbank when Philip Reeve and I were on our London Pugwalk, and recognised me from the encounter at Johannes's waffle cafe, even under the wig and icicle tiara! I didn't realise I was in his book, which was a nice surprise. :)
(Here's my drawing of Johannes from February last year.)
On this visit, I'm staying in the apartment connected with Studio 21, a new gallery run by Eli Aarskog Monsen and Ingvar Torbjørn Øritsland. For the SILK Festival this week, they're featuring the lovely graphic work of Stavanger-based artist < ahref="http://www.anettemoi.com/">Anette Moi</a>. The gallery's shut on Mondays, but they opened it up after my first day of school visits to show me the exhibitions. The prints are all very reasonably priced and I hope they make lots of sales. (You can see details about Studio 21 on Facebook.)
Check out Anette Moi's picture book, I Love Stavanger. Such pretty colours and wonky lines!
And these pictures made me smile, especially the polar bear.
Some drawings of Stavanger buildings, which made me want to go out and draw a bunch of Skudeneshavn buildings... (I hope I have some time to do it on this trip!)
Love her sense of design so much.
Right, back to school visits! The very first school I visited was Torvasted Primary School, and it's so brand-new that the building's only been open for one month!
Norwegian kids tend to be very cheeky, but this group was cheeky in a really nice way, and I enjoyed the visit very much. I'd only ever done Pugs of the Frozen North events as a double act with writer Philip Reeve, so I was wondering how it would work, but it seemed to go well.
We used pugs as characters and set off on Comic Jams featuring our pugs. (They tell me that 'pugs' is 'mops' in Norwegian.)
The kids drew quite confidently, it was nice to see. (In our Comic Jam, each of the four panels is drawn by a different person. You can find out more about Comic Jams over on the Jampires website.)
This comic made me laugh. I told them I might use the 'It is hurting' panel for my new Facebook profile picture, ha ha.
Teacher Evy Vikingstad gave me a tour of the library and I went straight for the stacks of Norwegian picture books, to see if I could find out about some Norwegian illustrators.
Some of the pictures in this book by Per Dybvig made me smile:
And then I got to have lunch with Headmistress Liv Hammervold, Norwegian rapper Lars A. Toennessen and tattoo artist Anders Meland. Lars and Anders are travelling around the country for ten weeks teaching all-day juggling workshops, which culminate with a performance of the children's new skills at the end of the day. They've been doing it for years and kids look forward to being in Year 7 so they can take part.
A little peek at the pretty, very Norwegian school lunch:
In the afternoon, I visited Avaldsnes School, which is very near the Viking Museum I toured on my first visit to Norway. There's an island nearby where more than 10,000 people gather every year to camp, in the old style, dressed as Vikings. So here are a few of our Vikings, with their Comic Jams:
And my nice teacher hosts, with a glimpse of the library on the left.
This morning, I started my second day of visits at Sevland School. I like this wooden tower stuck in the middle:
And here's my group with their Comic Jams! A lot of them sent me messages on Instagram, which made me laugh because I usually work with younger children who aren't on social media, so I'm not used to getting messages from 11-12 year-olds, but it was very sweet of them.
Here's part of the giant Great Northern Race board game they helped me make. They suggested a Viking as one of the perils, and we were going to give him a sword, but then decided an attack chicken would be funnier.
I love seeing what ideas the kids have for their pug stories, especially when they draw them very boldly, like this one.
I like the 'Kaboosh' sound the lightning makes!
And this wins so far for most glam pug.
Lunch in the staff room, and you can just about see SILK Festival's Silje Maria Skaadel (in front), who was my excellent driver for most of the day.
And then we went to a very small school. The state had closed it, but the community wanted so badly to keep their school that they reopened it privately, as Kvalavag Montessori School. It's in a beautiful, wild-looking rocky area, and I had my nose glued to the car window the whole way.
They were a really fun, enthusiastic group of kids and funnily enough they all had mobile phones, so we had a massive selfie session at the end. (I wonder if any of them will pop up on my Instagram!)
Here you can see some pug drawings and a Comics Jam:
Poor pug is stuck in cheese on Pizza Planet:
Here's a lovely teacher, and SILK Festival's stalwart trouper Ellen Skaadel, who drove me on the last leg of that day's tour.
Thanks so much to the four schools for hosting me, and John, Silje and Ellen for looking after me!
Just had the BEST school visit I've had in a long time.
Thank you, Lamar County Elementary School in Barnesville, Georgia, for making my visit so special.
(And thank you, Mrs. James, for making it possible.)
|They gave me the BEST gift basket.|
|With principal, Dr. Scandrett|
|Being interviewed. Great job, guys!|
|With the BEST library media specialists, Claudia Bryan and Betty Smith.|
Thank you, Lamar County Elementary School!!
A couple weeks ago, I got an excited e-mail from a teacher named Claire Williams:
I'm not sure whether you'll remember me - I was sat next to you at the Book Awards dinner in Nottingham and we talked about how Pugs of the Frozen North sounded like an exciting novel to use for the Polar Bear topic that I have to plan for the first two weeks of term with my Polar Bears class. Well, I've read it, I just know that the children will LOVE it and I have also decided that if we're going to get as much enjoyment out of it as it has to offer, it's going to need more than two weeks! I'm going into school tomorrow to turn my classroom into the North Pole and the novel is going to be at the heart of our topic for the whole first half of this term, which I think I'm going to call ‘The Race to the Top of the World’ … I just wondered whether there is any chance that you and/or Philip might be able to spare a few minutes to come up with some sort of writing challenge based on Pugs of the Frozen North?
So we did! And since we'd done it for Claire, it made sense to turn it into notes that more people could print out. I consulted with Claire to get the notes as accessible as possible for teachers to use and adapt.
**Click here to download the notes as a printable PDF!**
Here are FIVE WAYS to use Pugs of the Frozen North in the classroom!
1. Draw a Pug!
Give your students confidence in character creation by making a pug out of simple shapes. It’s much more fun to write about a character who looks back off the page at you!
How you could build on this:
• Have everyone draw their pug on brown paper (such as parcel wrapping paper) in thick black pen. Give them pastels to make the whites of the eyes stand out and have each child design a different colour jumper for their pug. Have them cut out the pugs and display them on a class bulletin board.
• You could expand on this by having each child name his or her pug. Perhaps the child could write a paragraph about the pug’s personality and achievements, such as which sled races it’s already taken part in. Cut out these text boxes and hang them next to each pug as part of the classroom display.
Pugs drawn by Katie Hand, Keara Stewart, Teri Smith's daughter, Sam Reeve and Sam Decie
Browse a large gallery of all-ages pug drawings here!
2. 50 Kinds of Snow
In Pugs of the Frozen North, True Winter brings fifty different kinds of snow. With the class, create a list of all the kinds of snow mentioned in the book. Continue writing the list until the class reaches fifty, imagining what other sorts of snow might exist in True Winter.
Songsnow, screechsnow, gigglesnow, fartingsnow
How you could build on this:
• Divide up the snow: Write the fifty kinds of snow on slips of paper, fold them, and have each child draw a piece of paper from a hat to decide which kind of snow each child will focus on for his or her project.
• Create a 50 Kinds of Snow class comic book: Each child creates a one-page comic strip. At the top of the page, they draw the title of their comic, which is the name of that particular kind of snow (Singing Snow, Shrink Snow, Farting Snow, Giggle Snow, etc).
Have the children think about what angle they want to take with their comic strip. Some ideas: a scientist could demonstrate how that kind of snow behaves. A pug could encounter the snow during Shen & Sika’s race and have a mini-adventure which shows how the snow behaves. A snowball made of that kind of snow could be the main character in the comic. Or they could show what would happen if that kind of snow in their own school yard. (The possibilities are endless.)
If you’d like tips on how to make comics, I've has created a series of comic-making videos for Book Trust. They’re based on the Sea Monkey from Oliver and the Seawigs, but the same comic-making tips would apply to Pugs or any book or comic the children create.
Click here for all four Comic Jam videos
The advantage of making comics is that the visuals will pull along the writing and make the overall book a more appealing object. There's also more of a chance that children would want to read each other's work if it's in comic form, and the kids would have to work on making their comics read clearly to each other.
Collect the comics into a book and add a title page, and possibly a short introduction. The introduction could include a one-line quotation from each child on their favourite thing about Pugs of the Frozen North, or a class book review. Look at the pug endpapers in Pugs of the Frozen North and create your own endpapers, possibly using scans or photos of the pugs the children have drawn. Or create more simple endpapers using white paint blobs (snowballs) on coloured paper; liven this up by giving each snowball eyes. Create a cover and have the children come up with a blurb for the back cover. Include the children’s names on the title page and on the page with their comic.
You could expand on this by having the class create a promotional book video trailer, and posters for the book.
• Make a class video about the 50 different kinds of snow. Each child presents a 'snowball' and introduces that particular kind of snow to the camera. Perhaps you cut away during each short talk to pictures or comics further illustrating the snowball's capabilities. Each child could also write out the name of that kind of snow for the camera to focus on before they begin talking.
You can feature one kind of snow per child (‘a selection of the 50 kinds of snow in Pugs of the Frozen North’) or show all 50 kinds. If you want to make the video public on YouTube or Vimeo and there are privacy issues, the children without video permissions could do voice-overs while the camera focuses on their snowball and artwork.
3. The Great Sled Race
Create a Great Sled Race mural on a bulletin board or long strip of paper.
Have each child decide what sort of creature (real or mythical) will pull their particular sled, and how many of these creatures they will need to pull their sled. Have them draw the creature in the top of half a piece of paper and write a short paragraph beneath it, explaining what kind of creatures are in their team, why they think their team is best suited to win the race, and what they have packed in their sled. (This can be serious or jokey.) Make sure the children’s creatures are facing toward the right-hand side of the paper (so everyone’s sled will be going in the same direction).
Have the child go over the outlines of their creature drawing in dark black pen. Cut off the lower half of the paper with the article on it and save this. Have the child trace over the first drawing to create multiples of that creature. (If their team has four dragons, trace over the first dragon three times.) Have them colour their team in bright colours and cut out the creatures. Get them to create a sled out of coloured paper. (This could be as simple as a rectangle, or one of these shapes):
Print out a larger version of this in the downloadable PDF!
For an extra challenge, children could create harnesses for their creatures and draw on coloured paper a picture of themselves riding their sled. For younger children, you could cut around the second shape, glue a headshot photo of the child into the parka hood, and have the child decorate the sled, parka, mittens and boots. A bit of decorative ribbon might make a nice belt. Patterned origami paper might make eye-catching sled blankets.
Create a bulletin board with a coloured background (blue?) and display the sled teams and sleds on the board. Use thread, string or narrow ribbon to connect each sleds to its creatures. Next to each sled, attach the short paragraph the child has written about his or her sled team.
If you have space, have the children cut snowflakes out of paper and add them to the picture. Perhaps you could add a title along the top of the display, such as ‘Race to the Top of the World!’
In Pugs of the Frozen North, the pugs say ‘Yip!’ and ‘Arooo!’ You could create speech bubbles for the children’s creatures with the sounds their various creatures make while they’re racing.
Take a photo (or photos) and tweet it to Philip Reeve at @philipreeve1 and me, Sarah McIntyre at @jabberworks!
4. Polar Board Game
Create a giant board game, adding wonders and perils from the book and inventing some of your own!
Part 1: You'll need a large piece of paper, possibly a roll of paper or paper covering a display board. In the bottom left corner, create the starting point (possibly the name of your school). In the top right corner, draw the North Pole (possibly an actual pole, with a label reading 'North Pole').
Part 2: Draw a curvy track (two parallel lines) connecting the two points, to form a game board race course. Divide the track up into boxes (like a railroad track).
Part 3: Talk about wonders and perils in the book. What might racers meet along the way, that would either help them or hinder them in their journey? You can debate the merits of each (Fartsnow might set you back three squares because it's horrible, or propel you two spaces forward.) Examples include encountering yeti, avalanches, the Kraken, crevasses, polar bears, Northern Lights, snowstorms, ice palace mirages. You can either write or draw onto the game board the different wonders/perils or have the children do it. The class can decide together if each encounter means going forward or backward (and how many squares... -2? +4?) or missing a turn. Write these directions onto the game board.
Part 4: Create two paper markers with blu-tack on the back of each (possibly using a pug face from the How-to-Draw-a-Pug activity or a sled from the Great Race activity). Divide up the class into two teams. Select a person from each team to roll the dice for that team (or take it in turns). Have each team roll the die to see who goes first, then play the game!
Part 5: Discuss with the children how creating a board game is very much like plotting out a story: there's a beginning, and end, and events and setbacks that happen to the characters in the middle. Consider having each child create his or her own board game as a way of plotting out a story. Have them choose a starting point, a finishing point, and decide what their character might encounter between those two points. Then get them to tell or write the story as though they're playing the game they've created.
5. Heart’s Desire
If you could win the Great Race and get your heart's desire, what would it be?
Part 1: Have the children write the answers to these questions. They may feel very private about these answers and not want to share them with the class.
1. What would you want more than anything?
2. What do you think someone else in your family would want more than anything?
3. Is there anything you feel you ought to ask for, even if it's not what you really want?
4. What would happen if you got your heart's desire? Would it make you happy, could it cause problems, or both?
Part 2: The children could use these answers to inspire a story, showing a character who gets his or her heart's desire, how getting this might make things go wrong, and then showing what they'd do (or not do) to make it right again. The story could be in comics form or in writing with illustrations. They could be serious or silly-surreal stories, depending on how they want to approach the subject.
Further ‘Frozen North’ reading: The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean, The Call of the Wild and White Fang by Jack London, Shackleton’s Journey by William Grill, Moominland Midwinter by Tove Jansson, Northern Lights by Philip Pullman
Click here to download the notes as a printable PDF. And visit my website - jabberworks.co.uk - for other book-related activities (including how to knit your own pug).
I heard back from Claire, who's already started reading Pugs of the Frozen North to her class:
Sarah, I am absolutely buzzing and I just have to pass this feeling on because you are responsible! I read the first chapter of Pugs of the Frozen North to my lovely new class this morning - I'd only planned to read one chapter to them but they were SO desperate for more that I just had to read a second and then they went on at me so much when I finished the second chapter to carry on that I had to read the third chapter and then we were late for PE but they LOVED it!!!! Thank you, thank you, thank you for creating such enjoyable experiences of reading and books for those children - amazing for them but, as a teacher, best feeling ever when learning becomes that exciting!
And thanks for inspiring us, Claire!
Yesterday was an exciting day for Oliver and the Seawigs when Oliver, Iris, Cliff the rambling isle and a jabber of Sea Monkeys picked up a UKLA Award! UKLA is the UK Literary Association and I've heard this award called 'the teacher's Carnegie' because it's judged entirely by teachers and it's a big honour to win it. Here's coverage in the Guardian:
(Read the rest of the article here.)
Even the journey to the ceremony in Nottingham felt a bit special when, in honour of Wimbledon tennis, East Midland Trains surprised everyone with complimentary strawberries.
My co-author Philip Reeve snapped pictures of me busily making a #PicturesMeanBusiness cover for my phone.
When we arrived at the National College for Teaching and Leadership, we ran into fellow Oxford University Press-published author Gill Lewis, our Seawigs publisher Liz Cross and UKLA's Joy Court (who's been very helpful with the #PicturesMeanBusiness campaign).
And here's writer Jo Cotterill, and Sarah Howells from OUP who was looking after us for the event.
We were supposed to be schmoozing teachers before the ceremony but Reeve was most uncharacteristically reserved.
Here's UKLA's Lynda Graham opening the ceremony with a slide of all the shortlisted books for the three categories of awards.
We got to see teachers talk about each book and how they'd used in their classrooms and how the children had responded to them.
I loved hearing from these kids about Oliver and the Seawigs. Check out the knitted Sea Nonkey, and that boy in the middle had made a clay version of Oliver!
While Seawigs won the main 7-11 award, Heather Butler's Us Minus Mum received a special commendation for dealing with death and grief. It was great to see a special award created for that book that will be very important for specific children going through these issues.
After the ceremony, teachers came up to us afterward and raved about how important the Seawigs illustrations were to getting kids in their 7-11 age group reading and enjoying the experience. They can't get enough of quality illustrated chapter books. Philip and I didn't go into making these books because we saw a huge niche in the market - we just thought it was a great way to tell a story - but it's amazing to hear all the testimonials of how these illustrated books really hit home with kids. Philip and I took turns giving a short speech and making this drawing, and I talked a bit about #PicturesMeanBusiness and urged teachers to encourage their colleagues to talk just as much about the illustrator as the writer when they read and do class projects on books, so kids could have two sources of inspiration instead of one.
Here's Philip and Chris Haughton mucking around after the dinner UKLA laid on for us.
Huge thanks to UKLA's David Reedy, Lynda Graham and Joy Court, award sponsor MLS, all the teachers and kids who read the huge stacks of books, Marilyn Brocklehurst from Norfolk Children's Book Centre who provided books on the day, our editor Liz Cross for coming along, and Sarah Howell for being so helpful and organised! Oh, and Philip, of course for making an ace book with me. That guy constantly amazes me with the story stuff he comes up with.
If any teachers are reading this, check out my website for free printable activities to go along with our books Oliver and the Seawigs, Cakes in Space, and the upcoming Pugs of the Frozen North.
Time to use that award bowl... it's strawberry time!
Look! Seawigs have reached Germany! Here are some young rambling isles who we met last week at the European School in Bad Villbel, near Frankfurt.
Dressler, our German publisher, had asked us to go and visit some international schools to spread the word about Oliver and the Seawigs, or Schwupp und Weg as it’s known in those parts.
Our main host was Stephanie von Selchow who is the librarian at the European School in Frankfurt.
She’d arranged for us to do two sessions there, for her own students, and a visiting class from Textorschule, Sachsenhausen. A lot of the kids had already read Oliver and the Seawigs, so after we’d talked a bit about it we went on to Cakes in Space, which has just been published in Germany as Kekse im Kosmos. Most of the audience spoke good English, and it seemed to go down well... of course, some of the show needs no translation; the bit where I hit Philip over the head with a mandolin case goes down well in any language.
That afternoon we had a quick wander around Frankfurt, and tried to draw some of the odd but attractive nobbly linden trees which line the riverside.
They're quite tricky trees to draw, and I'd love to have another try at them. One of the school kids had a picture of this kind of tree in his Oliver and the Seawigs artwork and he got the funny shape of it just right.
Then it was off to the Literaturhaus restaurant, where we had dinner with Stephanie and some of her colleagues from ESF and other schools.
As you can see, it was very grand, and the food and company were first-rate.
The next morning we were picked up by Manuela Rossi, who whirled us down the Autobahn to Bad Villbel, where we talked Seawigs and Cakes to some of the students of the European School Rhine Main.
Utte, the librarian there, showed us some of the great artwork the children had produced, including this fantastic tower of houses. It looks a bit like a Traction City out of Philip’s Mortal Engines books.
Most amusing question of the day: Where did you get those GIGANTIC SHOES?
Then it was back on the Autobahn to yet another international school, Accadis in Bad Homburg.
We’d met Samantha Malmberg and Caitlin Wetsch from the school at the previous night’s dinner, so it was good to see them in their natural surroundings, and meet their students, who were VERY EXCITED TO SEE US.
Some of the classes had done whole whole projects on Oliver the Seawigs, complete with some great drawings.
And after that we had a little bit more time to mooch around Frankfurt...
...in the guise of Mitteleuropean crime-fighting duo Peek & Cloppenburg.
Strange things were going on in Frankfurt city centre. Nobody seemed to be bothered by the fact that the shopping mall was being devoured by a wormhole…
But we discovered a natty German-style TARDIS and were able to save the day.
And we both found excellent covers for our pop albums, should we ever find time to write and record them. Here’s Philip, waiting for the Trans-Europe Express…
Heaven knows what mine is going to sound like.
But whatever it is, it will be lovely: some things are Better Than Perfection.
Thanks to Stephanie, Utte, Sam and all the staff and volunteers who helped to make our visit to Frankfurt so enjoyable. We were very sad to leave!
If you visit the island of Utsira (the one in the radio Shipping Forecast, in the North Sea, off the west coast of Norway), you may spot a little eeping Sea Monkey on one of the rocks. And you may wonder why it's there. Well, here is its story...
If you read my last two blog posts, you'll know I've been taking part as a barnebokforfatter (children's book author) in the SILK Festival in Skudeneshavn, on the island of Karmøy. When Utsira island librarian Margrethe Djønne saw me in the programme earlier in the year, she asked if Stuart and I would like to make a detour to Ustira for a couple nights, to visit their school. So after the festival, Margrethe (Maggie) and her mother picked us up at the local cafe and drove us from Skudeneshavn to Haugesund, where Stuart, Maggie and I caught the evening ferry boat.
Whenever we'd mentioned to Karmøy people that we were going to visit Utsira, they'd suck in air and shake their heads, warning us about the rough sea passage and telling us to lie down flat on the ferry to avoid getting sick. And that evening WAS quite windy.
We didn't sit up on the deck, no one did; everyone stayed on the lowest floor of the passenger section. And I thought the advice about lying down would just be for visiting tourists, who didn't have their sea legs. ...Nope. The ship was pitching like a galloping horse in slow motion. By the end of the 70-minute journey, EVERYONE was lying down flat.
But the advice was sound, no one got sick. At Utsira North Harbour, all the passengers put on their shoes and headed out into the darkness. And gosh, is it DARK on Utsira. Island resident and artist Marit Edie Klovning picked us up and drove us to a fisherman's house, where Maggie jumped out to collect some crab he'd caught for us, and his mother had prepared. Then Marit drove us all up the hill, stopping to turn the car headlights onto a mural on the water tower, painted of the island's first female mayor. The first female mayor in all of Norway, in fact, a midwife named Aasa Helgesen, who served from 1926 to 1928. In the dark, her massive head looked quite scary.
The car beams next lit up a white house, where we'd be staying for the next two nights. Maggie and Marit led us into the house, stocked the kitchen and showed us where the linens were, then disappeared back into the night. We lit some candles to make the place feel more cosy, delved into the food bags and feasted on crab and freshly baked bread.
We weren't exactly sure where we were. As the wind wuthered outside, we did a bit of exploring, first the kitchen cupboards:
I'd been talking with a lot of Scandinavian crime writers earlier in the week, so we got a little bit too imaginative about what Kylling, Farinsocker, Finger Salt and Grillkrydder might be. Next the bookshelves, where I pulled out these two rather special books:
We couldn't read anything, but the people in them looked rather jolly. I think the one on the left might be writer-illustrator Alex T Smith in a previous life. The one on the right might be one of my great-aunts or something.
We went to bed, the wind still howling. We woke before sunrise the next morning, and in the dark blue sky, I could see an old lighthouse outside our bedroom window. I ran around outside to see where we were, getting my socks all wet.
That white house in the middle is where we were staying. It's the Lighthouse artist residence, and it's where the island hosts people who come to work with the school or put on a local exhibition.
Here's a photo of the lighthouse again, taken a bit later in the day:
And the view from the base of the lighthouse:
I got dressed up in my Jampires costume and Marit picked me up in her car to take me to the school, while Stuart stayed behind, with his own plans to hike around the island.
I thought that we'd only driven a little bit of the island the previous evening, but I quickly realised we'd already covered almost the whole place. Utsira is very small! Here's a map, with the Lighthouse marked in red. The 'Utsira kommune' is in the same building as the Library, right next to the school:
Map from Google Maps
Utsira is basically a pile of rocks with a valley down the middle, a harbour at either end. I took this panorama later in the valley, and you can see a surprising amount of landmarks from a single location: the harbours, the school, the library, the restaurant, the shop.
Marit swung by her son's house, with a big split rock out the back, which is where she gets her married surname 'Klovning', which in English would be 'Clovenstone'. (Which is also the name of a place in Edinburgh and the country in my co-author Philip Reeve's book Goblins.)
And we swung by the South Harbour for a peek. That flat white building to the right of the red boat house is where people might also stay if they were overnatting on Utsira.
Then we arrived at the library! Wow, Utsira Library is well stocked! The first thing I saw was a little exhibition of Tove Jansson's Moomin books:
Maggie had put two of my books on display - There's a Shark in the Bath, Jampires and Oliver and the Seawigs - and I spotted quite a few other familiar names, too. Here's Maggie showing their Francesca Simon section. ('Rampete Robin' must be the Norwegian variation on 'Horrid Henry'.)
I drew a little poster for the library (something I often do, to make sure the flip chart pens really work):
And then the children arrived! My first group was the younger half of the school's 22 pupils. I showed my books to them and read Jampires, then we all drew Jampires together.
Jampires are a bit like vampires, but instead of blood, they suck jam out of doughnuts. I love how ours all had different personalities:
Then we talked about our favourite foods and they invented their own story creatures:
Here's a Pancakepire:
And a Pizzapire:
When the older half of the school arrived, we drew Sea Monkeys (from Oliver and the Seawigs and I led them in a Sea-Monkey-themed Comics Jam.
The idea was that we'd all draw four panels of a comic, but between each panel, we'd switch papers, so we'd be writing each other's stories. (Here's more information on running a Comics Jam.)
Utsira Library has a great comics collection for its size, and I wish I'd had more time to browse. Here are some interesting-looking comics Maggie showed me:
And picture books, too. This first one's a scrapbook of an artist's travel books, I think:
Maggie said that people don't tend to use the comics section very much, but I hope the kids I worked with will be inspired to explore a bit more in it. I mentioned my favourite comic, Calvin and Hobbes, which is called Tommy & Tigern in Norway, so maybe they can start with that one.
One funny thing about visiting Utsira: I'd assumed my visit would be kind of a big deal because they would get less visitors than your average school. But this was not the case! They have a decent budget for their cultural programme, a school cultural officer named Knut, and they bring in people regularly. So we didn't even have time to finish the Comics Jam because they were off to see an Oslo dance troupe perform! And I got to come along.
The troupe - Panta Rei Danseteater - led them in a warm-up, then put on a quite sophisticated modern dance about an old woman's diary, mortality and the passage of time.
After their performance, four of schoolchildren (who'd been working with the dancers) performed their own choreographed dance. And then the dancers sat on the floor and did a Question & Answer session. (And we all took a photo.)
The school theatre was new-built and gorgeous; apparently the community had been campaigning hard for the budget and won. The dancers had brought their own flooring, which rolled away into their van; then they pulled away the black curtain backdrop to reveal enormous windows overlooking much of the island. Amazing.
Lunch time with Maggie with Knut, the cultural officer, catered by the island's shop.
Maggie also asked if I wanted to meet the kindergarten children, and I said yes. But I was expecting they'd be four or five years old, and they turned out to be infants as young as a year old. (More of a day care, really.) They looked at me in slight bewilderment when I pulled out my ukulele. But they seemed to like it best when I drew a Jampire for them, and I left them, happily colouring it in.
Here's one of the mums, Katrine Klovning, collecting her son in a little onesie she'd knitted for him:
Stuart wasn't back when I returned from school, so I thought I'd set out by myself to explore the island, and went around behind the Lighthouse. Apparently Utsira is a birdwatching paradise; in peak season, there are more types of bird there than people. Oh look, North Utsira and South Utsira beach huts:
Even though I was wearing wellies, the ground was incredibly rough, and I have sudden visions of pitching onto my face and not being discovered by anyone but the birds and sheep before nightfall.
So I went back onto the main road, and met a fresh-faced Stuart coming up the hill. Hurrah! He'd already walked all the way around the rough parts of the island, but he came out again to walk along the roads with me.
I love this barn:
Such great textures and colours.
I made Stuart go all posey in his lovely new Norwegian jumper. (We actually bought it at a second-hand shop in London, still with the tags on. But we saw very similar jumpers being worn there, so he didn't feel like a silly tourist and wore it almost every day.)
Check out this Warhol-inspired barn:
And speaking of soup cans, we had to visit the shop, to see what sort of things would be on sale when it's the only shop on the island. It was a wonderful shop, with loads of fresh produce, pretty much anything you could want. But I thought the canned food section was the most interesting because of the mysterious (and occasionally funny) labels. (What is 'Snurring'? A herring that snores?)
I recall a childhood song that went, Fish balls, fish balls, yummy yummy fish balls/ fish balls, fish balls, eat 'em up, YUM. (Or was it 'fish heads'? Anyway, I got the song stuck in my head for awhile.)
Lots of Lapskaus.
Kjøttkaker and Sodd. Heh heh.
But we didn't eat out of a tin that evening, it was much better than that. Maggie had talked with Daniella De Vreeze and Hans Van Kampen, who run the island's restaurant, Dahmsgård Utsira. They weren't planning to be open that evening, as it's not peak season, but they opened just for us and Danielle made us one of the most tasty dinners I've ever had.
Not that it was overly fussy-fancy, it was just perfect; Daniella knew exactly how to prepare the mushroom sauce for the monkfish, and the vegetables were so tasty; the ice cream meringue dessert had some sort of special texture that was incredible.
And lovely wine to go with it. Not at all what we'd expected to find in such a remote place! Here are Marit and Stuart:
And we were also joined by Arnstein Eek and Atle Grimsby, who work for the Utstira Kommune administration. It's funny asking people there what they do for their job, because everyone ends up doing a lot of jobs on an island, so nothing's entirely clear. Atle first came there because he loves the birdwatching, and then never left.
The only reading preparation that Stuart and I had done was on the airplane, from a book by Charlie Connolly that I'd had kicking about the house for almost ten years, called Attention All Shipping: a Journey Around the Shipping Forecast. I'd never managed to get through it, so I ripped out the pages that we'd need (which was perhaps a bit naughty, but there you go). It was quite illuminating, and I learned that people from Utsira are called 'Sirabu' (not Utsirans). And, of course, our dinner companions knew all the people mentioned in the book, and Atle's Facebook-friends with Charlie.
We didn't get to see Daniella for most of the meal because she was busy cooking, and Hans helped her serve. But Hans disappeared for awhile to help with the washing up, then we got to see both of them for awhile. They're Dutch, and bought the old school house about four(?) years ago to do up as a restaurant. They'd never run a restaurant before, just an art gallery, but Danielle had done a lot of catering for the gallery - over a hundred people at times - so she knew lots about cooking already. I think they said that they visited Utsira, found out the site was up for sale, and came up with a business proposal, right there on the island, in three hours. They're pretty awesome. They remind me a bit of a Danish film called Babette's Feast, about a French woman who brings fine cuisine to a rugged little island in Jutland. There's one other place on the island you can eat out - a pub that serves pizza, chips, sausages, that sort of thing, but it's definitely worth popping into Dahmsgård Utsira, even if just for cake and coffee.
The next day was Art Day; I'd been talking with Marit about her work over dinner and really wanted to see her paintings and studio. And Maggie and a few others had mentioned that they wanted me to add to the mural collection of the island, and I said I'd be up for that. So Marit took Stuart and me to her place, where we met her family and had some lovely breakfast.
It was such a cosy house and table, her daughter was warm and friendly, and her grandson was super-cute. I love this photo, it looks like some sort of half-remembered Nordic painting.
Marit's husband used to work as a carpenter (and built their house, studio and workshop) but turned his hand in later life to becoming a fisherman, which he now does with their son.
Here's some lovely cinnamon cake Marit made:
And more nice packaging (this time it's pâté).
While I was talking with Marit's daughter, Marte Eide Klovning, I asked about her job, and it turned out that she's the island's mayor right now. She travels quite a lot, to go to meetings and things, so Marit juggles being a babysitting grandmother with making her artwork. I love the theatre poster hanging in her studio loo, with Marte on the left. I think she said it's a play about Aasa Helgesen, Utsira's (and Norway's) first female mayor.
Marit showed me a few of the paintings and drawings she had on display in the main part of the house:
This one in the kitchen's called The Maker, and has a real bit of lace stuck into it. Marit likes the idea of 'making' as much as 'painting'; she sees herself as much as a Maker as a Painter. I think I'm like that, too.
And here's a large one in the lounge. Until this trip, I never thought of Norwegian beaches as beautiful places, but they have soft white sand as good as Hawaii's (just less sun).
After coffee, we went around to the side of the house, to the separate building that's Marit's studio. You can see it there on the left, through the trees.
The first things I noticed were all the portraits on the back wall. Utsira had a Jubilee celebration of and Marit set herself the task of painting a portrait of every single woman on the island, from the youngest baby to a very old woman (104, I think). Many of them bought their portraits from her after the exhibition, but she still has some of them. I can't remember the exact number of portraits, but it was near 100.
The boxes were another part of the project; Marit likes looking for interesting driftwood on the beaches and she made these boxes out of bits she found. Again, there's one for each woman on the island, and it represents having a little space of one's one. Marit explained that a lot of people don't stay on the island, particularly women, and to keep living there happily, one really needs hobbies and a rich inner life. So these boxes are a bit like the things each one of them treasures around herself.
Marit had already sold this painting, but she showed me a postcard of it. I love the northern light on it; so atmopheric.
And this one, too. I once took a class at university on Northern European Landscape Art, and true to form, I've forgotten almost everything. But I have vague memories of other Scandinavian painters who use this sort of light in painting, and there's something very magical about it.
Here's a peek into two side rooms.
Marit's used some antique linens and lace effects in her paintings.
I was so pleased that Marit came to my talk on Skudeneshavn, and then took the time to show me around. Thank you so much, Marit!
The island prides itself on its mural artwork that's been springing up during the past few years. You see this light bulb as soon as you get off the ferry:
And there's a Norwegian video with a bunch more paintings shown here. I was starting to think I'd run out of time to paint a mural (which was okay with me) but in the last two hours, Marit kicked everyone into gear and raced me over to the school to paint a Sea Monkey on one of the rocks on the playground. I was quite happy with how it turned out, despite the rush, and I liked the location, where the little kids would be able to see it.
Then Marit and Arnstein Eek escorted me to another place to do a second mural, in a housing development by the North Harbour, and I expected to paint on one of the big blank walls. But that wasn't what they had in mind. Another artist, inspired by the Gaza conflict, had painted a sniper pointing a gun at a child with a balloon. And while the residents didn't mind the politics so much, they didn't like coming up the stairs in dim light and being confronted by a gun man. So they wondered if I could do something with it.
...Yikes! I didn't know what to think! Would the artist be angry with me for defacing his work? (They didn't manage to record the name of that particular artist.) What might I be saying, politically? I didn't know! And the ferry was leaving in 40 minutes. Marit helped me and we got to work.
Oh boy. What had I done? Well. Marit and Arnstein and another guy there seemed much happier about it.
The politics of Sea Monkeys. I don't even know; don't ask me to write a paper on that one. Also, we caught the ferry.
I was sad to leave. The Sirabu were so kind, and looked after us so well. The island is beautiful. I hope I can go back one day.
Big thanks to Maggie, Marit, the teachers, Arne, Arnstein, Daniella & Hans, Borislav the Bulgarian and the Englishman who both gave us lifts, everyone who pitched in to make the trip so wonderful. You can follow Utsira Kommune on Facebook if you want to follow their news. (I think the community is more active on Facebook than Twitter.) And they also keep a blog here.
The ferry ride back to Haugesund was much quieter, only about a quarter of the passengers were lying down, and some were reading and chatting. John Rullestad from the SILK Festival met us at the dock and took us back to the Viking Museum at Avaldsnes, which I'd visited on my first visit. (Stuart did a quick run around.) We had coffee there with John's wife Helga Rullestad and my new Danish friend from this year's festival, writer Lene Kaaberbøl. Oh, and of course, we dressed up.
Stuart's gone completely native.
Just before we left, Maggie handed me a bottle to put into my luggage. So this evening back in London, I took down to our neighbours gifts of Risebrød (chocolatey rice thingies) and brown cheese, and also brought along the bottle so we could all have a taste. Good stuff, Utsira Akevitt. Very strong. Thanks, Maggie! :)
(And well done, reader, if you got this far! I know this is WAAY too long of a blog post, but I did it, really, for myself, as a souvenir. I didn't want to forget anything!)
Goodbye, Norway. We miss you already. x
I love teachers who do things like this:
Fourth grade teacher, Saul Ruiz, at Carver Academy Elementary in Amarillo, Texas, organized a wonderful project with his students after reading How to Steal a Dog.
"You have inspired us to take our eyes off ourselves and realize that someone else always has it worse than we do," Mr. Ruiz told me.
"We are teaming up with a local homeless shelter for mothers and their children. We are making “After Dinner Bags” for the kids who show up to these shelters. Just like Georgina, they sometimes just arrive with a plastic bag full of only a few of their belongings. We are making bags full of snacks and activities for children to do after dinner…the most boring part of the night for kids at the shelter."
How great is that?!
And I love that they are calling this wonderful activity Project Georgina in honor of the main character.
High five to Mr. Ruiz and his students!!
Here are students from Samuel Wagner Middle School in Winterport, Maine, showing the books won by Betsy Murphy in my drawing.
Thanks for sending this, y'all!!
I had a great Skype visit with 4th-grade students at Fort Worth Academy.
This is what greeted me when I first logged on:
They had great questions and one student showed me her amazing artwork:
Their teacher, Ms. Bonin, sent me these cool pictures of her students reading on the playground.
Thank you, Fort Worth Academy!
The talented Ian Jones-Quartey took to Twitter tonight to vent his frustration with young fans who keep asking him how to get accepted into the animation program at CalArts, even though he never attended the school.
Whenever my Cakes in Space co-author Philip Reeve lands his spaceship in London to do an event, we tend to pack in a few more events to make the most of his visit. This week was a busy one! On Wednesday night, we managed to catch a party for The Bookseller magazine at Foyles bookshop on Charing Cross. Then we were off on a train bright and early to visit the Bishop's Stortford Festival of Literature. (Here's a warm-up picture I drew on their flip chart, to add to the prep school library's picture collection.)
Visits are always far better when the kids are prepared. Our first event was in front of hundreds of kids and they'd all read BOTH Oliver and the Seawigs and Cakes in Space! Here's a great drawing of killer cakes by one of the girls in the after-lunch book club meeting:
Dropping in to see the book club between our two big stage events was fun; they sat around us and told us what they liked best about the books and we got to sit and soak it up and eat star-themed cupcakes. Nice!
Here are some of the kids at the end of our second stage event, holding aloft the sea monkeys who joined in so vigourously with the chorus of our Sea Monkey sea shanty.
Huge thanks to the team who made it all happen! We hope lots of kids (and maybe some adults, too!) went away inspired to write and draw stories. From the left, here's fabulous stage technician Martin, festival oganiser Rosie Pike, Lynn Bailey (bookseller from the excellent Norfolk Children's Book Centre) and poet Stewart Henderson, who was also doing events with the kids that day at Bishop's Stortford College prep school. I got to wear my brand-new space dress, created by tailor Esther Marfo.
After signing loads of books, we hustled off to the train and rushed down to London to the Society of Authors headquarters, near Gloucester Road tube station. (Note background nosepicker.)
I'd been wearing the blue hair all day, so I switched over to a headscarf in an attempt at a slightly more grown-up look. Or something like that. (Here's a picture by our event technician, Niall Slater)
Writer, illustrator and illustrious YouTuber Shoo Rayner chaired our session and gave us a great intro and helped with question time. I didn't have any photos from the session so I've raided Twitter:
Philip and I talked about how we got started collaborating on our books with Oxford University Press, and we also talked about working relationships we've had with other people we've made books with. We also talked about writers and illustrators being co-authors, something I wrote about in an article for the Awfully Big Blog Adventure. We even had librarian Joy Court in the audience, who was so wonderfully instrumental recently in changing the Carnegie listings to include the illustrator when the books are illustrated. (Here was my blog post about it, which got constantly edited as the situation changed.) Right at the end of the event, we gave the audience a first-ever public reading of our story The Dartmoor Pegasus.
Big thanks to Jo McCrum and the Children's Writers & Illustrators Group for hosting our talk! It was fun bringing Oliver and the Seawigs to the place where the title and central story idea sprang out of (the acronym CWIG). If you've written or illustrated some books, I definitely recommend joining the Society of Authors; they're our best advocates when it comes to politics, complicated contracts, otherwise-unknown sources of money, and tricky legal things I can barely get my head around. Plus, they do events like this one! You can follow them on Twitter at @Soc_of_Authors.
Thanks to Shoo for being lots of fun and chairing, we had a good laugh with him afterward over dinner. He hosts a YouTube drawing channel, where you can learn how to draw almost more things than you can imagine: check out the Shoo Rayner Drawing channel.
Today World Book Day UK hosted my co-author Philip Reeve and me along with a stupendous line-up of book people. Do we look excited?
It's been a ten-city, ten-day tour, and we were the London stop.
I never thought I'd be on stage with the amazing Jacqueline Wilson, Michael Rosen, Francesca Simon, Holly Smale and Steven Butler!
The venue was a big surprise. I'd never visited Walthamstow Assembly Hall before, and it felt like the big People's Palaces I'd seen during my student days in Moscow. Heavy, grand, and a bit imposing. But cool!
Check out the words above this doorway: FELLOWSHIP IS LIFE AND THE LACK OF FELLOWSHIP IS DEATH. ...WHOAAAA.
I guess it's the Fellowship of the Rings, check out the ceiling pattern. Here's what the hall looked like before the school coaches rolled in. (That's Reeve ahead, carrying my red Sea Monkey bag and his ukulele.)
And here's our presenter, magnificent ringmaster Steven Butler, who grew out his twirly moustache just for the occasion. You might know him as the guy who writes the Dennis the Menace books. He's been ringmaster for the whole tour, and he's still on his feet. Wow!
Steven memorized 'three unknown facts' about each of the speakers, which was rather impressive. My facts were:
1. When Sarah was born, her parents thought she was a sea monkey.
2. When she escaped from the zoo, they were sure of it.
3. She now draws sea monkeys in an attempt to distance herself from these silly creatures.
1. Philip wrote his first book when he was five, and it was called When Spike and Spook went to the Moon.
2. Philip is actually a highly advanced android named Wilf.
3. Philip hates being called Wilf; please never call him that.
Here we are, just before going on stage.
And we did our thing, drawing a Sea Monkey, singing some songs, reading from Oliver and the Seawigs, demonstrating the Power of Science with the Nom-o-Tron from Cakes in Space. (I told the kid that if they wanted to learn how to draw their own Sea Monkey, they could find out on my website.)
I love meeting other authors at festivals and things, but I hardly ever get to sit and watch their talks; I either have to leave or we're on at the same time. So it was great to get the chance to watch Holly Smale, writer of the Geek Girl books, in action!
Holly got almost as much fanfare as Jacqueline Wilson, who entered to screams that rock stars would envy.
Jacqueline's famous not only for her books, but also for the chunky rings she always wears. So Steven decided he had to give her a run for her money on that front. Check out all the BLING!
We got to hear Michael Rosen tell stories:
And Francesca Simon talk about Horrid Henry (and Perfect Peter):
Holly accidentally left her phone on-stage, so Steven took a big selfie.
I thought, with that many other amazing authors present, we'd have a great time but probably not sell a lot of books. But I was WRONG! Oxford University Press brought a big table full of books and sold every single one, and kids were sad not to get even more! The kids were going absolutely mad buying everyone's books and getting them signed, it was awesome. And even kids who didn't get our books brought Holly Smale's World Book Day edition of Geek Girl up for me to sign. So I drew geeky Sea Monkeys, which was fun.
Huge thanks to the colourful Kirsten Grant and her team, who organised the tour, Steve who did our tech, Steven for being a wonderful ringmaster, Newham Bookshop for organising books, our lovely OUP publicists Harriet Bayly & Camille Davis, and the local libraries for the use of the venue. And, of course, to all the schools who came along, and to my fellow authors, who made the day such fun. I'm excited to see which book characters people are going to dress up as on Thursday, World Book Day!
WORLD BOOK DAY DRESSING UP:
If you dress up as a character in one of my books with Philip or any of the other books, please please send along a photo, I'd love to see! Here are a few ideas from past years, if you're looking for some inspiration:
From There's a Shark in the Bath:
From Oliver and the Seawigs:
From Jampires (you can print a free mask from here!)
Princess Spaghetti from You Can't Eat a Princess! and You Can't Scare a Princess! (tiara-making tips here):
And you can download and print a free GOBLIN mask from Reeve's GOBLINS books!
Reeve and I would love love LOVE to see some Cakes in Space costumes! Astra, Pilbeam the robot, Poglites, killer cakes....DO IT DO IT DO IT!
Want to know how to host the perfect author visit?
Call 1-800-Melanie Roy
She's the amazing librarian at Hampden Meadows Elementary School in Barrington, Rhode Island.
Mrs. Roy and the awesome 4th grade teachers did the most amazing job of preparing the students for my visit.
By the time I arrived, the students had read almost all of my books, worked on some very cool projects, and were super excited about the day.
Here are some of the highlights of my visit there:
|They reserved a parking spot for me! Now, that might not sound like such a big deal to you folks in Florida. But, trust me, when there are mounds of snow everywhere, this is a wonderful gift.|
|I was greeted with this thoughtful sign.|
|Students interviewing me for the local newspaper.|
|They have all of my books displayed throughout the library.|
|Abby showing me her poster.|
|Kaleigh dressed as Viola from The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester.|
|Grey, Robby, Katherine and Julia interviewed me.|
|The amazing Mrs. Roy|
|Mrs. Clegg's class showing me their great posters.|
|Adeline showing me her poster.|
|Mrs. Mitchell's class showing me their books.|
|Ms. Myszak's class made these cool character trait projects.|
|The students discussed my presentation afterwards. |
|Rayna showing me her poster.|
|Lindsay showing me her poster.|
|Mrs. Bailey's class made this great chart about my books.|
|Colin dressed as Elvis from The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis.|
|Some more thoughts from students about my presentation.|
Thank you to students and staff of Hampden Meadows Elementary School.
Leicester earthlings got a surprise last week when my co-author Philip Reeve and I teleported in with our Cakes in Space roadshow! We drew a picture of ourselves, in case we couldn't be seen because our costumes were so blindingly shiny:
We were thrilled to take part in Leicester Author Week, and this is the first time there that I've been able to do a double-act presentation. Which was a lot of fun! The Two Steves have been doing this double act thing for years, here we are with them (Steve Skidmore and Steve Barlow) and writer Andy Briggs, who all worked with their own groups of kids on the day. And we got to see a lot of kids! Over the two days, I got to work with over 800 Leicester school children on the city's innovative scheme, Whatever It Takes to get kids reading.
**Philip Reeve has blogged (magnificently) about our Cakes in Space day over on his website**, so pop over there for a read! (You can print out Cakes in Space drawing resources from my website.) I think one of my favourite things about the day was watching all these kids at the end of the session, rushing up to give Philip big hugs. I don't think he got hugged quite so much when he was doing his Mortal Engines talks. :)
So... JAMPIRES DAY! I spent quite awhile talking about my co-author on this picture book, the excellent David O'Connell, and drawing, of course.
A teacher took this photo with the kids from her class, who were very appropriately dressed in jammy red school jumpers.
The team that run Leicester Author Week is what makes it great; they manage to combine a warm, fun atmosphere with total professionalism. The equipment always works, the planning is very straightforward, and every kid gets a book at the end of the day. Big thanks to technician Mark Lambell, multi-lingual storyteller Jyoti Shanghavi and head organiser Kate Drurey (with jam pot).
We started with a big stage event and I read JAMPIRES to the kids and teachers, talked a bit about how I made it, took questions and we sang the Jampires song. Then we all moved over to the workshop tables, and I led them in drawing their own Jampires. (Hey look, there's Philip drawing a Jampire on the following day!)
We talked about how foods can inspire characters, which can, in turn inspire stories. So we all wrote down our favourite foods and came up with a character who's obsessed with that particular food. The kids helped me come up with Peter the Pizzapire. Then they drew their own, and we started creating a world for their character, a place where the story could happen. Check out Icy the Icecreampire....
...and Pommy the Popcornpire! I hope the kids were able to take away their characters and settings and turn them into full stories.
Another fun thing about Leicester Author Week is getting to see lovely colleagues. Here are lovely writers Bali Rai and John Dougherty. (John helped me last year in Leicester to come up with the tune for my There's a Shark in the Bath song, with lyrics by Philip Reeve! It's fun being able to work together.)
I mentioned to the kids that they can knit their own Jampire if they like, and the pattern's available, along with lots of other creative resources, on the fab website David O'Connell designed, jampires.com.
Since every kid gets a book, and there are over 800 kids, that means a LOT of book signing! Luckily I got to sign both sets of books the day before, so I didn't have to rush too much. Here are the boxes of JAMPIRES books that met me when I first got to the hotel. Quite late in the evening, I was joined by John Dougherty, who had only just flown in from the Emirates Lit Fest in Dubai! (I did that last year, going straight from Dubai to Leicester without time to drop off stuff at home. Stuart rescued me by coming with a fresh suitcase of clothes and I had a dramatic and chaotic repacking session in corner of Gatwick Airport. An elderly lady was sitting on a bench nearby, and shaking with laughter as my suitcase kept popping with tentacles, massive petticoats and pirate gear.) Despite his travels, John remembered to bring a full range of pen colours.
Our Leicester hotel was nice and quite quirky. Check out the unexplained portraits of 'Wills' in the restaurant. And the stairway that led to nowhere except a big porcelain dog, marked 'The Kennel'.
I don't usually get any time to explore Leicester, but this time my hotel was right near leafy New Walk, which gave me a whole different impression of the city.
I even popped quickly into the New Walk Museum, which is well worth visiting if you're in the area: cool Victorian paintings, dinosaur skeletons, mummies, and a collection of German Expressionist paintings and illustrations, among other things.
And we even got to join our Leicester friends Selina Lock and Jay Eales and Steve's wife Ali for a curry, hurrah! Huge thanks to the Leicester team, including Juliet Martin, Dan Routledge, Sandy Gibbons, Nicole Dishington (here with Andy Briggs) and everyone who made it happen! You can follow Whatever It Takes on Twitter as @LeicesterWiT.
I love this school display from a small town in Georgia.
|Vocabulary Words We Know. Thank you, Barbara O'Connor.|
Heading to Canada to visit some schools
The German filmmaker will head the animation program at the the internationally renowned film school.
I recently spent three days visiting schools in Fredericton, New Brunswick
|To get there, I had to fly on an itty bitty little plane like this, that kind of freaked me out.|
|But I survived. Phew!|
|My first stop was Gibson-Neill Memorial Elementary, where they know that it's the little things that count. A reserved parking spot! (I love all those different-colored letters.)|
|I was greeted by Alex and Quinn. A nice welcome!|
|The students had decorated the gym. Love this greeting sign.|
|Students had made book trailers and illustrated booklets.|
|Such great pictures of dogs!|
|More drawings and trailers|
|More drawings! The school was so festive.|
|And more drawings....|
|I loved seeing these booklets the students made for How to Steal a Dog. |
|Some students had made these cool scenes from clay, on display in the library.|
|More decorations in the gym|
|Speaking to Gibson-Neill Memorial students|
|Reading to the students|
|This is a spring-time recess in Canada! Brrrrr|
|Students being interviewed by the local radio station (Canadian Broadcast). She asked them great questions about my books (and they gave great answers).|
|Liam, Boyd, Aiden and Conor had lunch with me and asked some great questions.|
|Next stop was Barker's Point Elementary, where I was greeted by this great sign.|
|Hannah and Amelia greeted me with this great sign.|
|(l to r) The amazing Sherry Norton-Graham, who made this trip possible and treated me like a queen (Thanks for everything, Sherry!), me, and Barker's Point principal Jeanne Wood)|
|Next stop was Park Street Elementary, where I had the pleasure of having lunch with these super nice students. We practiced saying our names in Pig Latin.|
|And more Park Street students. |
Guys, this is exciting! Booktrust have worked with me to come up with a whole online class on how to make comics! I'm always wishing I could get around to more schools, so this is a huge help. There are four videos: how to make a character, tips on making comics, a walk-through where kids can make a comic along with the video, then a fun song at the end, inspired by the comic character.
The video editor has expertly paced the tutorial so teachers can use it in the classroom. But I think people at home can get a lot out of it, too: kids or grownups! You can watch the videos on the website here.
Here's the second video, so you can get a taster. Kids find making comics fun, but it also focuses them on learning how to make a story very clear to a reader. When I lead kids in Comics Jams, I often see them coming to grips with the idea that it's not enough to have a story in their heads, but that they have to give enough clues on the paper for someone else to understand the story without them hovering nearby, explaining it. They partly learn that by drawing the comics, but also by being given someone else's comic, and seeing why it might be difficult to work out what's happening. Learning how to express a series of thoughts clearly is a great concept lesson that applies to any form of communication.
You can find some more tips on leading Comics Jams over on my Jampires website with David O'Connell (who does great workshops). The Write Book site went live yesterday and a few people have already spotted it and seen its potential. Yay!
And you know how I'm always banging on about us needing an online comics database? Well, it looks like something's starting to happen! Check out this Booktrust Bookfinder on the website. For people who have no idea what kind of comics to give kids of various ages, this could be super-helpful. It's by no means a comprehensive list, and people can question the age ranging but it's a great start, and user-friendly. I'm always meeting teachers who want to do more with comics but they don't know much about them and need help.
On the Bookfinder, you can find out about my Vern and Lettuce comic book:
You can even download some pages, so you can get a feel for what kind of comic it is!
I'm really excited about this Write Book teacher toolkit; I think it could become a sort of TED Talks about children's books, with good resources just clicks away from the videos. I know kids get a HUGE amount out of it when I lead them in Comics Jam sessions, and I really hope people will use and share these videos.
And explore the other resources on the site! You can watch videos by Tony Bradman on rewriting fairy tales and Laura Dockrill's tips on writing and keeping a notebook. If you use our videos to come up with something creative, we'd love it if you'd share them with us! You can tweet them (or get someone to help you tweet them) to @Booktrust, using the hash tag #thewritebook. (And include me - @jabberworks - I'd love to see your comics!)
Big thanks to Anna McKerrow and the Booktrust team for making this happen!
Love that students from a school in Oconee County, Georgia, made Yoohoo boats after reading The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis.
The BBC published a video report on a new animation initiative in Africa that aims to nurture new talent from around the continent.
All students at Oakview Middle School in Lake Orion, Michigan, read How to Steal a Dog.
Media specialist Alicia Pearce sent me these great photos of some of the activities and discussions surrounding the book.
|Bulletin Board Display|
|Ms. McGran's class |
|Students discussing the book|
Thank you, Oakview!!!
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Just got back from three days being immersed in my favorite thing: children's literature.
After speaking to education students at the University of Richmond, I headed to St. Christopher's School to speak to the 3rd, 4th and 5th graders.
|(l to r) Librarian Lucinda Whitehurst, me, Librarian Laura Sabo|
In the library was a terrific display of some projects the students had done for The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis. They were required to use specific materials to create a free-standing figure to represent a character. There had to be on moveable part that helped show the character traits or interests. Here are a few of them:The next day I headed to The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg to speak at an amazing conference for teachers and reading specialists: The Joy of Children's Literature.It was organized by the amazing Dr. Denise Johnson, Professor and Director of the Literacy Leadership Program. Denise and I met at a conference a number of years ago and quickly became friends who share the same passion for children's literature.
|(l to r) 5th grade student (and reader/writer extraodinaire) Lois Sabo, me, Librarian Laura Sabo|
|Denise Johnson (left) and me|