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With the announcement of Scotland as Place of the Year 2014, we asked a few of our staff members who hail from Scotland to share their thoughts about home. They responded with heartfelt opinions, patriotism, nostalgia, poems, and a little homesickness. Here are their thoughts about Scotland being voted Place of the Year:
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If I had been given a penny each time I was asked in 2014 about the Scottish referendum, I could quite possibly have written off the UK national debt. However, while there was no financial gain in these chats, I did sense that something much more valuable was happening; Scotland was finding its voice again. In the referendum, political debate was no longer a pursuit reserved for a privileged few, but open to everyone. There are some famous traditions in Scotland like haggis, tartan, and 12 year old Speyside whiskies (and I love all three), but I think the most lasting Scottish tradition is a readiness to stand at the vanguard of change. Whether this is manifest in new inventions, poetry, or indeed in changing the nature of political debate, Scotland’s voice is often worth listening to.
I’m glad that Scotland’s story is still being told as part of the United Kingdom but I remain grateful for the events of 2014 and the good they can bring. This year has allowed us to take stock, and hopefully, in the words of Rabbie Burns, ‘To see oursels as ithers see us’ and to change for the better again. I may be biased, but Scotland will always be my place of the year.
– Alistair Shand, Marketing Executive, Oxford Journals, from Markinch
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I’m delighted that Scotland has been voted Oxford Atlas Place of the Year for 2014. If nothing else, I hope it means that people will think of something other than the stereotypical kilts, haggis, and bagpipes when they think of Scotland. It is a vibrant modern nation full of fantastic culture, rich history, and as we have seen this year, progressive politics. No matter which side of the referendum debate you were on, the level of engagement was really heartening, and spanned the generations; for the first time 16 and 17 year olds were allowed to vote. While 55% of voters decided against independence, the referendum has elevated Scotland in the world’s consciousness, and that makes me one tremendously proud Scot.
– Kirsty Doole, Publicity Manager, from Glasgow
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It’s a great choice having Scotland as Oxford Atlas Place of the Year for 2014. Despite having lived away from Scotland for the best part of 20 years, I’m still a fiercely proud Scot (you can take the girl out of Scotland….). When people hear your accent for the first time, they always want to talk to you about Scotland. Where should they visit? (where do I start!) Is Glasgow scary (not in the least!), do you support Rangers or Celtic (neither, I’m a St Johnstone fan). It’s such a beautiful country, something of which I am reminded every time I take a trip across the border. The colours in autumn are spectacular, the natives are friendly, and its cities are vibrant, cosmopolitan places with plenty to explore. But if you asked me what I missed most about The Homeland, my answer might surprise you. It’s the drinking water. Crystal clear, straight out of the tap, and with no limescale — I’m homesick already.
– Fiona McPherson, Senior Editor, Oxford English Dictionary, from Grangemouth
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I don’t think there are many other countries that provoke such a positive sense of belonging as Scotland. We may well have a reputation for being travellers, but no matter how far from ‘home’ or how long you’ve been away, that pride remains strong. When I think of home, it’s not the spectacular scenery that springs to mind (nor the much-maligned weather!), but the warm spirit, welcoming nature and humour of the people. We saw this in the summer of this year where Glasgow was the perfect host for the ‘Friendly Games’ and we see it annually in Edinburgh where the Fringe and Hogmanay are the focus of a global audience. However, my own favourite example of our welcoming, humorous people came in a football match against Italy in 2007 where the visiting Italians were treated to a rendition of ‘Deep fry your pizza. We’re gonna deep fry your pizza.’
— Paul Repper, Commissioning Editor, Primary Maths, Oxford Education, from Aberdeen
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‘Ah dinna ken whit like your Scotland is. Here’s mines. National flower: the thistle. National pastime: nostalgia.’ — Liz Lochhead
In recent years, the whole world has caught a glimpse of my nostalgic Scotland. This is something we can all thank Alex Salmond for. As the referendum loomed, it seemed as though the drastic change in governance we were pursuing was based entirely on the first verse of ‘Flower of Scotland’. For those of you who may need a refresher in unofficial Scottish national anthems, this football fans’ favourite refers to Scots king Robert the Bruce sending Edward II of England ‘homewards, tae think again’.
Whichever way we voted in September, I’m pretty sure we Scots can all agree that our nation has been invented by nostalgics. We can wince all we like at Mel Gibson’s attempt at William Wallace, and shout down anyone who asks if we solely eat haggis and shortbread, but we’re just as guilty as the rest of you. I personally, having moved to England less than six months ago, have spun many a yarn about the mysterious land in the north, trying to appear exotic to my Oxford colleagues.
Scotland being chosen as the Oxford Atlas Place of the Year warms my nostalgic tartan heart; I always welcome an excuse to quote Rabbie Burns and raise a glass to Caledonia.
— Kathleen Sargeant, Marketing Assistant, Oxford Journals, from Falkirk, Stirlingshire
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I may be somewhat biased but I thought it fitting that Scotland was announced as Place of the Year 2014. In a shortlist dominated by war and varying degrees of civil unrest, Scotland was a beacon of progress and positive political involvement. In the lead up to the independence referendum, held in September, the people of Scotland engaged with their future and their choices in a way rarely seen today, with 97% of people registering to vote. It was amazing to see my relatively small country become the focus of worldwide attention, especially for such a positive reason.
– CJ Cook, Marketing Executive, Law Marketing, from Livingston (but an adopted Glaswegian)
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Scotland is my favourite place in the world and I’ve never found a bunch of friendlier people than those you find in Glasgow. Our sausage is square, our squash is called juice, and our pigeon holes are ‘dookits’. You’re guaranteed to make a friend if you travel any distance on public transport. My favourite bit about going home to Scotland is standing in the queue to board the plane. I never truly realise how much I miss the accent until I’m standing there, surrounded by people who over pronounce their ‘r’s’ in the same way I do. That’s when I know I’m nearly home.
– Jane Williams, Senior Marketing Executive, Medicine Marketing, from Inchinnan
Heading image: Heading image: Flag of Scotland by Cayetano. CC-BY-SA-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
One of the ironies of the Scottish independence referendum is that Scotland is widely recognised to be a changed place despite the majority voting in favour of the union. It became clear during the course of 2014 that something significant was happening. Scotland witnessed levels of public engagement and debate never before seen. Hugh MacDiarmid’s ‘Glasgow 1960’ comes to mind. Returning to Glasgow ‘after long exile’, MacDiarmid’s narrator encounters packed trams heading for Ibrox, the home of Rangers football club, but discovers that the crowds are going to listen to a debate between ‘Professor MacFadyen and a Spainish pairty’ and that newspapers with headlines ‘Special! Turkish Poet’s Abstruse New Song’ were selling ‘like hot cakes’.
The Scottish Question may not have been debated on quite so elevated a level but debates were conducted the length and breadth of Scotland in a remarkably civil, engaging, and open manner. Those who sought to portray these debates as something sinister could do no better than refer to a professional politician who had an egg thrown at him while he addressed meetings on top of an Irn Bru crate. The dull, limited, predictable, binary debate of the conventional press contrasted with the expansive, lively, and engaging discussions that took place in often novel venues in every nook and cranny of Scotland. The Scottish Question, as debated by the public, was not restricted to a narrow constitutional question but became a genuine dialogue about what kind of place Scotland should seek to become. The referendum started a process that has not been halted by the outcome of a referendum on whether Scotland should become an independent country, the formal question that provoked this all-embracing national conversation.
The result of referendum and reaction to it has been in stark contrast to the referendum on devolution 35 years ago. In 1979, Scots had narrowly voted for a very limited form of devolution – 51.6% in favour on a turnout of 63.7% – but the measure on offer was not implemented as it failed to achieve the weighted majority demanded by Parliament at Westminster. The expectation in the run-up to that referendum had been that a decisive majority would vote for devolution. The slight numeric majority hid a defeat in expectations. Expectations were very different in the months leading up to September 18th this year. Early in 2014, opponents of independence thought that they might push support for independence below 30% and were still convinced that it would win less than 40% only a few weeks before Scots went to vote. In the event, 55.3% voted for the union on a record turnout of 84.6% but it has been the 45% that has been celebrated as victory. It has been the membership of the Yes parties, that has increased dramatically, with the membership of the Scottish National Party now dwarfing that of the other Scottish parties. With just under 100,000 members, the SNP can claim to be the only mass party in the UK today. Politics is an expectations game and supporters of independence knew that they had a ‘mountain to climb’, in the words of the chair of the official Yes campaign.
As opinion polls narrowed towards the end of the campaign, a ‘Vow’ was signed by the three main UK party leaders promising substantially more devolution while protecting Scotland’s share of public spending. This means that even the debate around the narrowed constitutionalist understanding of the Scottish Question will continue. More powers will be delivered with ramifications for the rest of the United Kingdom. Scotland is a changed place but an answer to the Scottish Question remains as elusive as ever.
Headline image credit: Glencoe, Scotland panorama by Gil Cavalcanti. CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Remember the exciting news I've been holding onto these past few months? Well, it's all happening now: I've moved from France to the English countryside. Why? I'm going back to school! To be precise, I'm going to attend, for the first time ever, art college. There's a ton of reasons for my doing so, and I'll chat about them as we go along to classes together this year, but it's a huge step for me and wonderfully exciting. I'm looking forward to learning tons, and to adding depth to my work and my life. It's never too late.
Which is why everything has been slightly haywire, upside-down, inside-out and choatic lately, and I have to apologise again for the lack of updates here, but you'll have to admit that it's for a brilliant reason and that you can't help but feel happy for me ...
I did manage to find time here and there to tackle a few more Spoonflower daily drawing challenges, though I was left far behind during the packing and moving bit of my journey. I'm still going to carry on and complete their themes despite the fact that the spoonchallenge is officially over today. Still, it keeps me therapeutically content having my pencils, pens, and trusty moleskine journal in hand.
Here are another 5 of the Spoonchallenges:
#SpoonChallenge 6: LEMON
#SpoonChallenge 7: BOOK
#SpoonChallenge 8: ARROW
#SpoonChallenge 9: TEA
#SpoonChallenge 10: TOAST
I have a ton of mundane practical things to take care of before courses begin mid-September, but today is Sunday and it's lovely and sunny here in the English countryside, something not to be taken too much for granted. So I'm having a short but, I think, well-deserved break with tea and the papers in the garden of wonderfully welcoming friends where I'm staying for the moment. Join me ...
Wishing everyone a glorious week. Will update again very soon! Cheers.
Maggie Steele, the storybook heroine who vaults over the moon, has been attracting thousands of visitors from around the world. So many visitors, in fact, that she’s using a time zone map to keep track of them all.* People are … Continue reading →
Yesterday it was announced that poet John Agard has been awarded the Queen’s Medal for Poetry. And what is especially exciting about this news? Well, apart from the fact that this fine poet’s work has been suitably recognised, it’s exciting also because much of Agard’s wonderful poetry is aimed at young people. The Poetry Archive website, a great place to begin exploring Agard’s work, describes him as a “unique and energetic force in contemporary British poetry” – and two of his collections were highlighted in his selection for the Medal: Alternative Anthem: Selected Poems (Bloodaxe Books, 2009), which along with an accompanying DVD brings together performances of some of his best poetry spanning 30 years; and his recent book Goldilocks on CCTV (Frances Lincoln, 2011).
John Agard was born in Guyana in 1949 and moved to the UK in the 1970s. Along with his partner, fellow-poet and often co-author Grace Nichols, Agard has been an important voice for promoting awareness of Caribbean culture in the UK, breaking down barriers and broadening perspectives on poetry (and he is currently one of the Advisors for the Caribbean Poetry Project). The British Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy says:
John Agard has always made people sit up and listen. He has done this with intelligence, humour and generosity. He has the ability to temper anger with wit and difficult truths with kindness. He levels the ground beneath all our feet, whether he is presenting Dante to children or introducing his own (Guyanan) culture to someone who hasn’t encountered it before. In performance he is electrifying – compelling, funny, moving and thought-provoking. His work in Education over years has changed the way that readers, writers and teachers think about poetry.
Here he is reciting his superb “Listen Mr Oxford Don”, one of the poems on the John Agard Live! DVD created by Pamela Robertson-Pearce to accompany Alternative Anthem:
I recently selected Agard’s The Young Inferno in my Top Ten Multicultural Ghost Stories. Goldilocks on CCTV continues the inspired partnership of Agard’s poetry with Satoshi Kitamuraas illustrator and the contemporary take on fairy-tales is just wonderful! You can read “Pumpkin Biker Cinderella” on the Frances Lincoln Website (go to the “Excerpt” tab), and here’s a video of a dead-pan Agard reading the hilarious title poem:
Julia Donaldson is one of the UK’s most popular children’s authors. As I learned in the new exhibition at at Seven Stories in Newcastle, UK , she started her career writing songs for children’s television – which I must have heard as a child watching Play School. In 1993, one of those songs was made into a book, A Squash and A Squeeze, and illustrated by Axel Scheffler, so beginning a partnership that has become renowned the world over, thanks especially to their book The Gruffalo. Other illustrators who have worked with Julia include Karen George, Emily Gravett, Lydia Monks, David Roberts and Nick Sharratt. Indeed, since 1993, Julia has written over one hundred books and plays for children and teenagers.
Last year, Julia became the UK’s Children’s Laureate. This year, there is the exhibition about her, her work and some of her illustrators and I not only had the good fortune to be there for yesterday’s opening, but also the privilege of a quick interview (you can read my post about the whole day here). I had time for just three questions…
First of all I asked about the background to her book The Magic Paintbrush, which I wrote a post about going on five (gulp) years ago… Rereading that post, yes, it’s still a favorite, which is why it wasn’t the book I took with me to ask Julia to sign: I didn’t have time to go through all the various piles of books in my boys’ rooms to find it! The Magic Paintbrush is the retelling in verse of a Chinese legend in which the heroine Shen helps her fellow villagers with food and essentials thanks to a magic paintbrush given to her by a mysterious gentleman: but things get dangerous for Shen when the Emperor finds out about the magic paintbrush and wants it for himself…
So, about the book’s background, Julia told me that a friend of hers had been running a multicultural project in Stirling, Scotland, with local women from different countries telling traditional stories from their cultures. One woman told the story of The Magic Paintbrush. After hearing the story, Julia originally envisaged writing it as a play, and in fact, often uses the book during school visits as there’s plenty of scope for getting a whole class involved in acting out the story, with Julia herself playing Shen and the teacher as the Wicked Emperor! And it’s also a great vehicle for Julia to pass on her passion for language as she invites children to come up with objects for Shen to paint and thereby make real – as long as they have two syllables to fit the rhythm of the original verse. Interestingly, Julia also acted The Magic Paintbrush out with children last year at the Scottish Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh to promote two resource packs for schools produced by Amnesty International (you can
While waiting around for my daughter’s pottery class to finish one Saturday afternoon, I dropped in to one of my favorite used book stores in Winnipeg called Nerman’s. Their basement is chock full of children’s books and to my delight, I discovered an Eva Ibbotson title, Not Just a Witch (Macmillan, 1989. Illustrated by Alice Englander.) When I showed it to my daughter, a self-proclaimed Ibbotson fan, she was delighted.
With her characteristic offbeat humor, Ibbotson introduces us to another wacky world of witches and mythical creatures that don’t quite fit the stereotype. The story begins with two witch friends, Dora and Heckie who, on their graduation from their witch academy, have a falling out over the fact they have unwittingly chosen the same hat (one with serpents, of course) for their graduation party. The two part company and the story then follows the adventures of Heckie as she settles in a small town called Wellbridge.
We’re not all the way through the book yet, but my daughter insists upon being read from Not Just a Witch every night and I am enjoying this one as much as I have the other Ibbotson titles I’ve read with her. (See my other PT posts on Ibbotson here and here.) Do you have a favorite author whose books you and your child enjoy reading together? Do tell!
Who does the reading to your child at night? Mommy or Daddy? And what books do they choose to read? In our household, it’s mainly me who does the night time reading ritual with my daughter, but on occasion my husband has done the bedtime reading. Of course, he picks different books than me and for today’s post, I’m featuring a book he’s been working on steadily with my daughter titled To Kill a Queen: An Elizabethan Girl’s Diary 1583-1586 by Valerie Wilding (Scholastic Canada, 2005) This book is one in a series of Scholastic titles — the My Story collection — of girls living through historical events like the Great Plague, the Blitz, and the Irish Famine.
To Kill a Queen features an Elizabethan girl named Catherine Anne Lumsden, the 12 year old daughter of a former lady-in-waiting on Queen Elizabeth the I, Lady Matilda Lumsden and Sir Nicholas Lumsden, a secret agent in the service of the Queen. With such a family so close to the Queen, it’s not surprising that they become embroiled in the intrigues of the court of the day, including a plot to kill the Queen. So what happens to our dear diarist, Catherine? Well, I don’t know since I’m not the one reading the book to her! Since my husband is an English professor, specializing in the literature close to the period covering this book, I could see why he selected this title for his choice of a bedtime read. How does my daughter like the book? I assume she likes it well enough, but by now, she is quite used to her parents, particularly her mother, foisting interesting and unusual reads on her! This doesn’t prevent her from voicing her opinions on the matter. She came home one day wanting us to read the popular The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins to her and so when Daddy went shopping recently, he picked up a copy for her to read to her at night.
Who does the bedtime reading in your household? And what books do you or your spouse choose to read?
We’re proud to present a new entry in Cartoon Brew’s Student Animation Festival: Peace One Day by Phoebe Halstead and Angie Phillips of London’s Kingston University. The film was made in support of the non-profit organization Peace One Day, to raise awareness for The International Day of Peace on September 21st. Two people battle each other as civilizations are built and torn down around them. Their uniforms—sometimes recognizable and sometimes abstracted into colorful shapes and forms—change at a frenzied pace, but the combatants and violent behavior remains ever the same. The powerful anti-war statement is heightened by Halstead and Phillips’ strong visual concept that smartly ties together violence throughout history and geography.
I’m still gathering my thoughts from the wonderful experience that was the IBBY Congress in London Thursday to Sunday 23-26 August. Four days of inspirational speakers and meeting kindred spirits from all over the world. I’ve now added a selection of photographs to our Flickr – you can see them here. I haven’t quite finished tagging and describing yet, but I’m getting there… and here is a smaller selection for you to enjoy on the blog – again, I’ve numbered them so that I can come back and label them!
A London children’s theatre company Theatre Peckham helped the Opening Ceremony go with a swing with their delightful performance of an extract from the theatre adaptation of Kate DiCamillo’s The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. Then fuelled with a piece of Wally’s delicious 25th birthday cake (but where was he? Answer: everywhere, in the guise of the very game Imperial College staff!), we headed back to the auditorium for our first plenary session – and what a line up! Three UK Children’s Laureates – the current reigning Julia Donaldson and two of her predeceesors, Michael Morpurgo and Anthony Browne.
Each spoke about what particular passions they had brought to their role as laureate: Michael described how he and poet Ted Hughes had first come up with the idea, and how Hughes had been instrumental in making it all happen; Anthony played the ‘shape game’ and showed how it appears everywhere in his work and outside it; and Julia talked of the three areas close to her heart: enhancing children’s experience of reading through drama; keeping libraries open (a big issue in the UK); and promoting stories for and about deaf children.
Julia and her husband Malcolm, on guitar, then showcased some examples of what theatre can do to enhance literacy, from the chorus of a very fast Italian pasta song written while on holiday in Siena, Italy, to a virtuoso performance of The Gruffalo in French, German and (its most recent language) Scots. In between, we were treated to the song that inspired Julia’s book A Squash and a Squeeze with audience participation… and I say treated, well, it was a real treat for me as I got to be the hen! Thanks to Australian author Susanne Gervay (yes, that was one of my top thrills of IBBY, meeting Susanne in person…), you will shortly be able to see it on Flickr too – don’t laugh too much!!
Well, that was just the first few hours of the Congress – I will certainly be writing more about it over the coming weeks. In the meantime, hello to all those PaperTigers friends I got to meet for the first time in real life – Shirin Adl, Candy Gourlay, Dashdondog Jamba; and to old friends and new. I’ll now be dreaming of IBBY Mexico 2014… In the meantime, head on over to Flickr and enjoy my photos – and much better ones on the official IBBY Congress 2012′s photostream.
It was a real thrill for me to meet not only Dashdondog Jamba at the IBBY Congress last month, having interviewed him last year, but also Anne Pellowski, who worked with him on the Libraries Unlimited edition of Mongolian Folktales. Here’s a photo of us all:
Dashdondog was a member of a superb storytellers’ panel with Michael Harvey telling a tall tale in a mixture of Welsh and English and Sonia Nimr recounting hers first in English then in Arabic. It was fascinating in both cases how much audience participation was possible, regardless of the language they were speaking, simply (and of course, not simple at all really) becasue they were such fine storytellers.
Dashdondog’s story-telling in Mongolian was accompanied by a slideshow that provided the necessary context and I loved his verse rendition of the work of the Mongolian Mobile Library that he founded in 1990 – the onomatopeia could be universally understood. You can watch part of it here. As well as his gift for storytelling, this part of Dashdondog’s presentation provided an indication of how committed the Mobile Children’s Library is in ensuring library books reach as many children as possible, regardless of the challenges of terrain, distance and weather conditions they encounter.
Do read Dashdondog’s article about the library here – and you can read some of his vibrant poems translated into English on his blog.
Today is Peace Day. It’s also a day of Global Ceasefire. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all the fighting stopped for this one day. It’s certainly something to aim for, and beyond.
This week with my Cub Scout Pack in Kirkbymoorside, UK, we thought about Peace and what a global ceasfire might mean. We made peace cranes, thanks to Stone Bridge Press’ wonderful A Thousand Cranes: Origami Projects for Peace and Happiness (2011), adapted from a book by Florence Temko (1921-2009); and then we held a short vigil by candle-light (one of our Challenges in our Diamond Challenge was silence: hard but ultimately rewarding).
We shared Lao Tzu’s wise poem from 2,500 years ago:
If there is to be peace in the world,
There must be peace in the nations.
If there is to be peace in the nations,
There must be peace in the cities.
If there is to be peace in the cities,
There must be peace between neighbors.
If there is to be peace between neighbors,
There must be peace in the home.
If there is to be peace in the home,
There must be peace in the heart.
The Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices Children’s Book Award is for a manuscript that celebrates cultural diversity in the widest possible sense, either in terms of its story or the ethnic and cultural origins of its author.
The prize of £1,500, plus a full editorial consultation with Janetta Otter-Barry at Frances Lincoln Children’s Books and a meeting with leading literary agent Caroline Sheldon, will be awarded to the best work of unpublished fiction for 8-to-12-year-olds by a writer, aged 18 years or over, who has not previously published a novel for children.
The writer may have contributed to an anthology of prose or poetry.
The work must be written in English and it must be a minimum of 15,000 words and a maximum of 35,000 words.
The closing date for all entries is 31st December 2012
Illustrated by Ramsingh Urveti, designed by Jonathan Yamakami, I Saw a Peacock with a Fiery Tail
Tara Books, 2011.
The glorious blue and intriguing cut-outs on the cover of this truly stunning book just beg you to pick it up and explore its pages. As you open the book, the feathered (or is it fiery?) eye leaves the peacock’s head behind, and you have to keep on turning until you find the whole bird. From then on, each page reveals a half-line of the anonymous seventeenth-century English nonsense/puzzle poem that makes up the text. The clever cut-outs mean you can read the poem in two ways – in its original tricky layout that offers a surreal, perplexing view of all the amazing things that “I saw,” or the more logical sequence created by joining the second half of the former line to the first half of the latter:
I saw a peacock with a fiery tail
I saw a blazing comet drop down hail
I saw a cloud… [you can read the whole poem here]
The secret is in the lack of punctuation throughout and the poem would make a fun punctuation task for younger children to work out – but the poem offers much more than a school exercise and is a delight for people of all ages to ponder the essence of poetry. Joined here with Ramsingh Urveti’s combination of black on white and white on black art influenced by his Gond roots, and Jonathan Yamakami’s imaginative book design, I Saw a Peacock with a Fiery Tale is a veritable feast for any poetry lover.
This is Urveti’s first solo book but he was a contributor to Tara Books’ much loved The Nightlife of Trees (New Horizons Award 2008). Here, his artwork is extraordinary in the way it manages to convey all the twists and turns of the poem whether puzzling or logical. He incorporates the recurring “I saw” inventively throughout. The ebb and flow of the different scales alluded to, from a mighty oak to a tiny ant, are reflected in the intensity of the patterns that at times seem to froth from the page. The book’s physical design is full of surprises right to the end: and this is a very physical book. In the age of the e-book, this is an oasis for anyone who loves the physicality of the book. If you think you know just the person you’d like to give it to, you might have to get hold of two copies – this is one of those books that would otherwise be impossible to give away!
Things are bad all over, with economies slowed debt levels have become a more accentuated concern and all eyes are turning to public services. No program or service is safe from scrutiny, it seems, and in Brittan the fight is on to keep the nations libraries.
According to an annual report from the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy the country has lost 347 libraries in past two years, down to 4,265. As grave as this sounds the news becomes more bleak when the figures for library attendance partly justify the closures. Visits to libraries across the UK have also dropped 2.4% in the past year and 6.7% compared with five years ago; and borrowing rates are down comparable figures.
So now the fight is on, with opponents claiming that: shutting down libraries is no way to improve public education, libraries also provide internet access to the less privileged, meeting places for social groups are a valuable community service, and they provide a service to job seekers looking to hone their resumes. Those in favor of the reductions to public spending point the aforementioned statistics, adding that not all libraries should be closed only the ones no longer being used; the same study indicates that while many libraries are being closed the largest libraries are mainly staying open. The Norfolk and Norwich Millennium library had 1.18m books issued and 1.34m visitors alone in the past year.
Tom Avery, Too Much Trouble
Janetta Otter-Barry Books, Frances Lincoln, 2011.
Winner of the 2010 Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices Children’s Book Award, Too Much Trouble will have its readers hooked right from the explosive introduction to the prologue: “The gun was much heavier than I expected.” The story of how Emmanuel, the book’s likeable 12-year-old narrator, got to this point is a gripping tale that deliberately mirrors Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist in a modern setting.
Emmanuel has mastered the art of not attracting the attention of his peers or his teachers – no mean feat, considering that he and his nine-year-old brother Prince are living alone. The boys had been sent to England to escape conflict in their unnamed African country, but the uncle who is supposed to be looking after them turns out to be a drug dealer and eventually throws them out.
Salvation comes from an unlikely quarter, in the shape of Mr Green, who is just as grotesque as the original Fagin. It’s a slippery slope from there into learning how to be good pick-pockets, along with the other children Mr Green has taken under his wing. Emmanuel is old enough to have learned the roots of integrity from his parents and to feel disturbed by this new mode of survival; the same cannot be said for Prince, which adds to Emmanuel’s anguish, as the responsible older brother. And so, eventually we come full circle to the point where Emmanuel has a gun in his hand…
As is appropriate for its targeted readership, Too Much Trouble does not enter into deep analysis of the social background, or do more than sketch in the criminal underworld. We don’t find out the other children’s stories, we just know they are bad. One girl, Terri, is an avid reader, and there are some deft allusions to books (including Oliver Twist) that may or may not be familiar. If they are, it adds to the story’s strength; if not, readers may be curious to find out…
Avery (a teacher himself) credibly weaves in the ineffectuality of the teachers and other adults in picking up on the brothers’ situation until it’s almost too late. This does not mean, however, that readers are not required to consider deeply the issues involved. Because it steers clear of making any moral statement itself, as a knuckle-biting journey of a read, Too Much Trouble is likely to evoke a strong response for social justice.
First, there’s the book and then there’s the movie. Where to encounter the narrative first is always the question! Most of us ‘older’ folk tend to encounter the narrative first in a book, and then later in the movie version. But for today’s children and for me — especially in the case of Japan’s Studio Ghibli movies at any rate — it’s often the movie first. When I first got wind of Studio Ghibli’s movie release, Arietty (it came out in Japan in 2010, DVD release July 2011) I noted quickly that it was based on Mary Norton’s The Borrowers (Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1953). The directors at Studio Ghibli — notably Hayao Miyazaki and son, Goro Miyazaki — have occasionally gone to British children’s books for inspiration for their movies. Their previously released Howl’s Moving Castlewas based on Diana Wynne Jones’ book of the same title (published in 1986) and it was through that movie, that I was introduced to Wynne Jones’ writing.
Thanks to Studio Ghibli again, my daughter and I have had a chance to experience The Borrowers by Mary Norton. I picked up a hardback edition of the novel at a used book sale in Nishinomiya where I lived and began reading it at night to my daughter. The Borrowers are little people who live under a house in England, and who ‘borrow’ things from the much larger humans that dwell above them. The family in the first series of the Borrowers books is a small one comprising of the father, Pod, the mother, Homily, and their fourteen year old daughter, Arietty (on whom the movie title is based.) My daughter and I got about halfway through the novel before she got to see the movie (we rented the DVD in Japan just before the day we left) and it was clear from the snippets I saw of it that the Studio Ghibli team was well into animating the tiny world of the Borrowers with its signature, detailed and colorful animation for which it is famous. I hope Arietty makes it into the North American viewing market soon, but barring that, The Borrowers still make a great read for parents and children alike.
It’s back to school time and with all its attendant busyness, our family is considering (perhaps rather foolishly!) of getting a dog. So lately, we have been researching dogs by consulting various books, looking at websites and generally asking our friends and neighbors for their advice. One delightful book I discovered in my perusal at the library for dog books was James Herriot’s Favourite Dog Stories, illustrated by Lesley Holmes (McClelland and Stewart , 1995) In this book, British veterinarian James Herriot regales the reader with stories of dogs he has treated in his countryside practice in Yorkshire. There’s the story of Tricki Woo, the spoiled Pekingese who lives with his rather ostentatious owner, Mrs. Pumphrey, or the moving story of Herman, the daschund who suffers from paralysis in his hindquarters owned by a disabled former miner and his wife, and Jake, the greyhound, the beloved companion of itinerant laborer, Roddy. My daughter listens to these stories with a keen ear in the midst of her bed, covered in stuffed dogs (soon to be replaced by a real one, she readily hopes!) I’m not sure how our search will go but reading Herriot’s warm stories has certainly helped increase the anticipation and excitement for this future — gulp! — addition to our household.
Shakespeare’s Storybook tells the tales that were likely the precursors to the stories of his plays. As is commonly known, Shakespeare did not ‘invent’ the stories of his plays — they often came from various sources which Shakespeare then ‘played’ with in order to create his own version of the story suitable for the stage.
I launched into a reading of Shakespeare’s Storybook as soon as I got it, and played the CD of the first story “The Devil’s Bet” to my daughter. She was immediately hooked. And why shouldn’t she be? The first story — the precursor to The Taming of the Shrew — was about a nasty girl named Nora who through an encounter with a gentle but spirited husband and through her own wits, manages to reform herself and rid her household of the Nicky Nicky Nye, a pestilent water devil. Although my daughter condemned Nora’s nastiness, she did perceive rather sagely that the husband, Jamie, was effectively ‘training’ Nora to be a better woman. Nothing like a wayward character to get a child interested in a story, that’s for sure!
Equally compelling were some of the other stories like “Ashboy” (Hamlet) and “The Hill of Roses” (Romeo and Juliet.) My daughter, whose first Shakespeare play was Twelfth Night, was a little disappointed that the story behind that play wasn’t in the book, but she did enjoy the others. We had an entertaining few bedtime nights of listening to the CDs and going through the book together. If you enjoy Shakespeare, I’d certainly recommend this book as an engaging introduction to the master playwright’s work.
My husband was in Wales recently for a conference and heard Welsh poet Gillian Clarke read there. I knew I’d heard of Clarke; in fact, I found her on The Childrens Poetry Archive website where you can hear her read the poem Legend. I was therefore happy to find at my local library a book of poems edited by Clarke that is very appropriate for Halloween. The Whispering Room Haunted Poems (illustrated by Justin Todd, Kingfisher, 1996) is a collection of poetry chosen by Clarke on the theme of ‘haunting.’ As Clarke says in the preface, “Haunting is all about imagination, and the best imaginers are poets and children.”
My daughter and I committed ourselves to reading a poem or two each night out of this anthology (while finishing off The Ogre of Oglefort by Eva Ibbotson!) leading up to Halloween. I find reading poetry with her helpful in teaching her about poetic language and concepts such as rhyme. I let her pick out the poems she would like to try and then we have a go at them. Flipping through the book together, I was quite struck by Justin Todd’s arresting illustrations, some of which drew me to certain poems.
What books are you reading to your child for Halloween? Any good poetry titles? Do share and spread the word! Poetry Friday this week is hosted by Diane Mayr at Random Noodling.
Bradley, Alan. (2010) The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag. (The Flavia de Luce Series) Bantam, division of Random House. ISBN 978-0385343459. Litland recommends ages 14-100!
Publisher’s description:Flavia de Luce, a dangerously smart eleven-year-old with a passion for chemistry and a genius for solving murders, thinks that her days of crime-solving in the bucolic English hamlet of Bishop’s Lacey are over—until beloved puppeteer Rupert Porson has his own strings sizzled in an unfortunate rendezvous with electricity. But who’d do such a thing, and why? Does the madwoman who lives in Gibbet Wood know more than she’s letting on? What about Porson’s charming but erratic assistant? All clues point toward a suspicious death years earlier and a case the local constables can’t solve—without Flavia’s help. But in getting so close to who’s secretly pulling the strings of this dance of death, has our precocious heroine finally gotten in way over her head? (Bantam Books)
Flavia De Luce is back and in full force! Still precocious. Still brilliant. Still holding an unfortunate fascination with poisons…
As with the first book of the series, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, we begin with a seemingly urgent, if not sheer emergency, situation that once again turns out to be Flavia’s form of play. We also see the depth of her sister’s cruelty as they emotionally badger their little sister, and Flavia’s immediate plan for the most cruel of poisoned deaths as revenge. Readers will find themselves chuckling throughout the book!
And while the family does not present the best of role models (smile), our little heroine does demonstrate good character here and there as she progresses through this adventure. As explained in my first review on this series, the protagonist may be 11 but that doesn’t mean the book was written for 11-year olds :>) For readers who are parents, however (myself included), we shudder to wonder what might have happened if we had bought that chemistry kit for our own kids!
Alas, the story has much more to it than mere chemistry. The author’s writing style is incredibly rich and entertaining, with too many amusing moments to even give example of here. From page 1 the reader is engaged and intrigued, and our imagination is easily transported into the 1950’s Post WWII England village. In this edition of the series, we have more perspective of Flavia as filled in by what the neighbors know and think of her. Quite the manipulative character as she flits around Bishop’s Lacy on her mother’s old bike, Flavia may think she goes unnoticed but begins to learn not all are fooled…
The interesting treatment of perceptions around German prisoners of war from WWII add historical perspective, and Flavia’s critical view of villagers, such as the Vicar’s mean wife and their sad relationship, fill in character profiles with deep colors. Coupled with her attention to detail that helps her unveil the little white lies told by antagonists, not a word is wasted in this story.
My daughter likes perusing books with visual puzzles in them, the kind where you have to find hidden creatures or hidden messages. She mentioned this to me again the other day which made me remember a book we’d bought in Edinburgh, Scotland a few years ago. Take a Closer Look: The Big Book of Optical Illusions and Visual Oddities by Keith Kay is a rich compilation of various kinds of optical illusions which you can try and figure out with your child. For the last week, my daughter and I have been going through a couple of pages every night and have been enjoying ourselves. Some of the illusions appear on Keith Kay’s website; there are some commonly known ones like the 1915 sketch by W.E. Hill of the old lady/young girl but there were also many I’d never seen before. At the back of the book, there is also an answer page which is a good thing, because sometimes no matter how hard you look, you sometimes just cannot see the thing supposedly there! Huh? I can’t see it Mom, turn to the answer page was an oft repeated refrain. There’s also a page on shadow puppetry that you can try with your hands on a wall at night — a good bedtime activity if you have a good lamp on your night stand. As much as I love reading aloud to my daughter, I do also appreciate these books where you interact with your child in a different way than just reading. Do you know of any good optical illusion books you’ve shared with your child? Let me know and I can seek them out for my daughter to enjoy!
Head on over to the PaperTigers website to find out more about talented artist Shirin Adl and to see a selection of her work, including illustrations from our current Book of the Month, Let’s Celebrate! Festival Poems from Around the World. Shirin grew up in Iran, and now lives in Oxford, UK. Her work combines exuberance of color and media (find out in our Q&A, for example, how she used cling film to good effect in Let’s Celebrate!), and we will soon be able to enjoy her writing in print also – in the meantime, visit Shirin’s website for a taste of her unique story-telling voice.
I was introduced to the writing of Canadian storyteller, Joan Bodger, through this post on a blog called Pickle Me This by Kerry Clare. Intrigued by the post, I decided to look up some of Bodger’s titles in our library for our bedtime read, and selected her Tales of Court and Castle, illustrated by Mark Lang (Tundra Books, 2003). Here was a book that was instantly attractive to me — I’m fond of folk and fairy tales of all kinds — but I wasn’t so sure about how my daughter would take to them. The tales are very old — medieval, in fact — but told in a storyteller’s voice that is compelling and fresh. Mark Lang’s illustrations are marvelous. Appearing before each tale, they illustrate the tale’s most compelling aspect quite vividly. There’s quite a lovely image of the King and Queen in the tale, “The Warrior Queen,” lying side by side in bed arguing who is the greater of the two, and a very haunting image of Iron John standing in the forest in “Iron John.” For me, there were a lot of quiet aha moments of “So, that’s where this story came from!” especially in the cases of “Iron John,” the Tristan tales, and “To the Dark Tower” on which a famous Robert Browning poem is based. For my daughter, these tales were introductions to the magical world of the English tale with their mythical fairy worlds, inhabited by elves and forest spirits, and the like.
Joan Bodger was an interesting woman in and of herself, and her biography is a rich tale of its own. Canadian writer, Kathryn Kuitenbrower has written a compelling blog post on Bodger and her books here. Check it out for an in-depth account of a remarkable storyteller.
The exhibition is a glorious extravaganza where fans of Julia‘s books will be able to revel in the worlds of all their favorite characters. Each section takes you into one of her books and as always at Seven Stories, there’s something for everyone – plenty of interactive activities to absorb the youngest visitor while older children and the grown-ups revel in the archival material such as Julia’s notebooks and the original artwork on display. There are buttons at toddler height; lots of opportunities for dressing up; and a house full of animals to get squashed and squeezed in. There’s a monster-sized Gruffalo and even a gruffalo stage with lots of costumes, and a juke box playing Julia’s songs – I think that’s one of Julia’s favourite displays. It is very special to see so much original artwork by her illustrators: Axel Scheffler of course, and also Karen George, Emily Gravett, Lydia Monks, David Roberts and Nick Sharratt (who also figures prominently in Seven Stories other current exhibition about Jacqueline Wilson). One of my favorite bits is a letter from Julia to her publisher about Room on the Broom, which was and is my dad’s favorite book to read to my two. In it Julia asks for the witch to look more scatty as she’s come to realise the witch is based on her as far as putting things down and not remembering where she’s put them! Another gem is the film entitled The Gruffalo’s Mum, a mini-documentary about Julia, with a specially written poem that she enacts to takes us through her day, with a few surprises along the way. I don’t think you can say “typical day” for Julia…
As Julia said in her speech to declare the exhibition open, she is “thrilled that it encapsulates some of my themes as Children’s Laureate” – namely music, drama and making stories accessible to deaf children. For Bessie-Belle, the partially deaf fairy in Julia’s Freddie and the Fairy guides visitors through the exhibition; Seven Stories has worked with ITV Signed Stories to produce signed films of some of the stories profiled; and visitors can learn to handsign book titles and key words from the stories.
Here’s a selection of photos from the day. The good ones, with an asterisk, are kindly provided by Seven Stories.
I paused on my drive north for a coffee at the lovely White Rose Books in Thirsk and lo and behold, was straight into the Gruffalo theme…