Monthly Archives: July 2017

Picture This!

At my age I have seen most, but not all, of the art featured in Paul Thurlby’s new picture book guide to the National Gallery in London. But I’m hoping that the young reader this book is aimed at will either not have seen any, or might feel good about recognising an iconic picture or two, and then want to look at more art.

Paul Thurlby, Picture This!

Paul’s book would be a good start. You could look through it before visiting, and you could either take it along, or revisit these pages after your trip to London’s enormous gallery where you can see so much interesting stuff.

The art is ‘the real thing’ and then Paul has added some of his own, as well as making comments or explaining the great masters. And every now and then you can add your own art into small frames dotted about, or you have questions to answer, quizzes and puzzles.

In other words, lots to do, what with reading the book really thoroughly and then traipsing round the National Gallery.

There isn’t enough of Paul’s own art in this book, but then I suppose that wasn’t the intention. Anyway, if you have lobsters to spot and snowball fights, that’s good enough.

This is me

I thought you might want to see what I look like.

The masterpiece below is a pretty accurate likeness. Daughter had the nerve to ask what’s wrong with my head, but I was able to point out that my head is just fine, and that she clearly doesn’t recognise a hat when she sees one.

Bookwitch drawing

It’s lovely having fans who like me this much… And the young lady understands about spells, too. Explains my wide smile. I’m usually more serious.

Giant

I am short, and getting shorter. In secondary school I had a classmate who was smaller than me, but I never gave this a thought, until I bumped into him five years later, when he was extremely tall. How he felt I’ve no idea.

I might have found out in Kate Scott’s book Giant. When you’re young, it’s not much fun being different; whether you’re smaller, or taller, than the other children.

Kate Scott, Giant

Anzo (the name means giant) has a noisy and fun-loving family who are all very tall. He is frequently mistaken for Y1, when he is actually Y6. A midget aged eleven. Anzo gets teased [bullied] and generally overlooked. His family probably love him, but never seem to notice what he says or does.

Luckily for our hero, he has a rather good friend at school. Elise knows how to make him grow (maybe not) and is supportive (bossy) when he needs it. Anzo goes from being cast as the seven dwarfs in the school play, to being able to pretend to be adult, rather like the character in Frank Cottrell Boyce’s Cosmic.

This is a wonderful and humorous story about not fitting in, and eventually discovering that what matters is knowing what you want to do. And that’s not necessarily to do with stature.

You will love Anzo.

Where in the world?

I lay awake one night wondering where I used to live.

Pathetic, isn’t it?

I mean, I remember full well where I was as a child, including all those details only small humans tend to remember or notice about a home, down at knee level or thereabouts.

And I know where I’ve been since I came to Britain.

I can also visualise [most of] the places I lived in-between. But what order did they come in? And how come I wrote down a list including a street I never lived in? To make up for that, I simply don’t recall the real name of the street I mistook it for. (I remember the curtains I had in my room, though.)

In the end I sat down and fine-tuned a list that is (probably) mostly correct. The forgetfulness is partly due to having been in lots of places during what now seems like a very short time. It’s presumably what young people still do, flitting from one address to another.

But for a night I was really worried. I’m the kind of someone who still can recite phone numbers for my near and dear ones from the early 1960s. Numbers that they no longer use, because they are dead, and the numbers changed, anyway. And the odd postcode, as well as the G’s phone number in Brighton, when I was a student.

I need a book for this. An address book, where I keep myself.

Odyssey – the Aarhus 39

We have a lot in common. But also, we don’t. That’s no bad thing, though.

Daniel Hahn has edited this collection of translated short stories. I think there are 21 in this, the older, group of stories of journeys from around Europe. If the list of names looks longer than 21, that is because the stories have both illustrators and translators as well as authors. So it’s been a big job to do, this collaboration with the Hay Festival in Aarhus. The Aarhus 39 stands for all the authors involved, as there is a collection for younger readers as well. (And personally I’d prefer to write Århus, but I can’t have everything.)

Odyssey - Aarhus 39

Anyway, this is very interesting. Daniel points out how similar [young] people are, wherever they come from. I agree, but it’s also obvious that we are different. Equal in worth and importance, but a little bit just ourselves.

Another thing about all the languages the stories were written in. You look at the name of the author and you think you know what language they use. But you could be wrong. So many seem to have made a journey or two themselves, and their stories are in a new language. This is fascinating and points to a new kind of Europe.

The Nordic short stories seem to be more into drugs, bullying and illegal behaviour. Further south it is more weird and entertaining. But none of that matters; they are stories about being young, and the journeys are either actual journeys, or about someone learning something about themselves.

I can’t possibly describe them, either their contents or the style. There are too many and they are too varied. The stories are short (yes, that is what a short story is), and mostly easy to read, and interestingly illustrated. They make you think.

If I were to criticise anything, it’s the size of the font. It is too small. And the very worthwhile list of all the contributors at the back; well that font is even smaller and made my eyes ache. But this is such a good idea, and we want more of it.

Just in bigger print.

Old hands and celebrities

Following on from my thoughts yesterday, my new, bright, idea was to find some unknown names on the days I’ve planned to go to Edinburgh. And then to go and listen to these new possible stars.

There was just one problem. There weren’t many. I’m not saying there were none.

But I recognised most of the authors and illustrators in the children’s books programme. I reckon I found three or four new names in total, by which I mean they have only one book published, and/or have not done many events.

A couple of them I had highlighted, but they had lost out to another event on at the same time.

The other thing is that with celebrities now ‘writing’ children’s books and appearing at book festivals, there is less room for the new Julie Bertagnas or Joanne Rowlings.

And of course, even if they were going to be there, and even if their books are fabulous, that doesn’t mean they will be household names in ten or twenty years. I suspect it’s the household names that will be raking in more money and more fame.

Were you there?

It is so easy to pick the best known names, or even the known names; authors you have come across before and want to see, or see again.

I have just been choosing events I would like to go to this August in Edinburgh. The numbers are realistic, so not too many. Will probably end up being fewer once I get a little tired. Have I picked any new authors? Am I being adventurous? Let’s have a look.

Hmm, well, it wasn’t as clear-cut as I’d expected. There are people new to me, and people new to the British market. But even if I haven’t seen them before, I have read and enjoyed their books and actively want to see them.

No adventure there, really.

It’s actually hard to make a completely unknown name stand out in a programme, making you go for it. I often think I should go ticket-less on a random day, and simply pay to see someone who ‘happens’ to be on later in the day.

Last year I saw Kathryn Evans, who had a debut book and who was also a book festival debut. But I’d read her book and I’d ‘known’ her for seven years or so. I wasn’t being brave in my choice.

Twenty years ago two new authors appeared at the festival. One of them has told me how she sat next to someone called Joanne Rowling for the book signing afterwards, and how they signed a book for each other… If she has any sense, Julie Bertagna has her Harry Potter under lock and key. Or she has sold it and spent the money. I’d like to think that Joanne still has her copy of The Spark Gap on a shelf somewhere.

Both books are terrific. Both authors have gone on to publish more books.

Looking back from where I stand, it’s obvious that anyone would want to see them. But I wonder how the audience made the choice in 1997?

Were you there?