Monthly Archives: March 2018

On (not) keeping track

Occasionally I’m pretty useless.

I had heard of Robert Macfarlane, even if I couldn’t say much about him. I read an interesting article by him in the Guardian, probably a few years ago, on what children no longer learn. I think that’s roughly what it was about.

And I’ve more knowledge about Jackie Morris, while not being an expert. Her illustrations are quite something. We also have ‘a few’ Facebook friends in common, and they are all big fans of Jackie’s work, and when there is a new book out, they are always very appreciative and comment a lot.

Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris, The Lost Words

So I imagined that’s what it was about when ‘everyone’ was talking about, and praising, The Lost Words by Jackie Morris and Robert Macfarlane, some time before Christmas.

The penny dropped much, much later. I’ve even forgotten what it was that made me join up all the dots at long last. The book, and those gorgeous illustrations are related to the article I remembered reading. I just didn’t know there was going to be a book about it. Clearly, I never received the memo.

I get – now – why everyone was going on so. It was more than the normal Jackie fever.

Advertisements

A small Oxford miscellany

The Bodleian Library shop is a dangerous place. I only went in because Daughter went in, and because it meant standing still instead of walking even more. I have a very effective do-not-buy filter that I can apply in a situation like this. Still, I went from one item to the next, feeling that as a one-off I really could buy it. Or that other thing. Maybe both.

In the end I channelled my inner Chris Riddell and bought what he had when I last saw him; a notebook covered in the cover off an old – now dead – ‘real’ book. I know, I know. But if it was good enough for the then children’s laureate to doodle in, then what hope could there possibly be for me?

We began Sunday morning by resting on the seat outside Trinity College. As we sat there, Sheena Wilkinson walked past. But these things happen. We’d had our Weetabix in the same college breakfast room as well.

Palm Sunday, Trinity

Anyway, Trinity. Suddenly there was singing from afar. The singing drew nearer and Daughter got up and said people were coming towards us. There was incense and some of them carried bits of what looked like stalks of grain. Finally, the penny dropped and Daughter remembered it was Palm Sunday. They were singing their way to the morning church service.

Very Oxford.

A ‘classmate’ from St Andrews had popped up on Facebook the previous night, and we had arranged to have lunch with him. We chose the biggest tourist trap in town, or so it seemed. But it came with Morse and Lewis connotations. And they had my broom on a beam on the ceiling.

Broom

The classmate had recently started his PhD in this venerable spot. Oxford. Not the pub. It has something to do with doughnuts. I think.

After we’d fed, we staggered round past a few more bookshops, and finished up in the Weston Library. Which is very nice. They have seats. Good baking. And a shop. Saw Ian Beck, presumably on his way to an event.

Then we agreed we’d done quite enough for one day, and walked back to our luggage and a train to take us to the sleeper train home, via another bit of Blackwells. We went in and said we wanted to buy ‘that book in the window.’ They were extremely helpful.

It would be safest never to go back there, ever again.

Lounge mouse

Sleeper passengers get to wait in the lounge at Euston. We met a nice little mouse in there. I suspect it was getting ready to collect the day’s food debris, fresh off the floor. It knew to wait until the exact right moment.

And this is not an invitation to put any traps out. Or poison. It was cute.

Votes for women!

OK, I didn’t actually vote with my feet and leave the event with Sally Nicholls and Sheena Wilkinson on Saturday. It felt far too important and interesting, but as with the suffragettes, I had a fight on my hands to be allowed to sit where I needed to sit. Seems we haven’t won yet.

Votes for women

A group of suffragettes set the tone, starting the event by singing, which made it easier to imagine what it might have been like, at the time. And having a chair, Manon Bradley, from the Women’s Equality Party, was a nice move. The room was pretty full, but as someone asked, ‘where are the boys? Is our work not done yet?’ I’m guessing it’s down to the parents whether they think to take their sons to a suffragette book event. Or not. They certainly took their daughters. As did I.

Sally started off with a reading from Things a Bright Girl Can Do; the part where they march in Hampstead. Sheena followed with her Star by Star, about Stella who ends up moving to relatives in Ireland when her mother dies from the Spanish flu. The excerpt from a dinner table discussion about women voting, made me really want to read the book.

Sally Nicholls

Both Sally and Sheena had been offered the opportunity of writing their books, and both of them managed to resist the idea for maybe ten seconds before caving in. Sally had already written on the subject in her War Girls short story, about the women who could never marry, while Sheena was inspired by a fantastic history teacher at school.

Sheena Wilkinson

Sheena loves research. She read the newspapers for details, one example of which was so gruesome I’ve chosen to forget it already. They both seem to like their heroines angry. Sally particularly enjoyed the language, making Evelyn angry, and Sheena’s Stella fights for what she wants.

Sally prefers to write directly, saving the editing until later. She doesn’t write chronologically, so has several scenes on the go. Sheena admires Sylvia Pankhurst, and spoke about an Irish heroine and fine writer [whose name I didn’t catch…].

Votes for women

And I’d say the girls who came, went away feeling empowered. The best for me, though, were the personal memories relating to the suffragette movement, shared by some of the older women in the audience.

ALMA for Jacqueline Woodson

The 2018 winner of the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award is Jacqueline Woodson.

I had heard of her, but only just. Based on what I’ve found out after yesterday’s announcement, I am looking forward to learning much more about Jacqueline.

Jacqueline Woodson, by Marty Umans

‘Jacqueline Woodson is an American author, born in 1963 and residing in Brooklyn, New York. She is the author of more than thirty books, including novels, poetry and picture books. She writes primarily for young teens, but also for children and adults. One of her most lauded books is the award winning autobiographical Brown Girl Dreaming.

Jacqueline Woodson frequently writes about teens making the transition from childhood to adult life. Her books are written in the first person, usually from a female point of view. Racism, segregation, economic injustice, social exclusion, prejudice and sexual identity are all recurring themes. In January she was named National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature in the United States.

The young Jacqueline grew up in the 1960s and 1970s, decades marked in the US by civil rights marches, police brutality and violence. Her most recent novel, Another Brooklyn, published in 2016 and a National Book Award nominee, portrays the fascination and challenges of growing up as a young girl in the Brooklyn of the 1970s.

Her books have been translated into more than ten languages.Woodson’s many honours include the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the Newbery Honor Awards.’

Sounds great, right?

Stories for empathy and a better world

I had been looking forward to the event with Miriam Halahmy and Bali Rai on Saturday. I’d never met Miriam before, but she was everything I had expected, and Bali was Bali as usual. Empathy is important and it promised to be an interesting discussion.

Bali Rai and Miriam Halahmy

We were all asked for examples of empathic children’s books that had made a difference to us. I can see the point of asking the audience, but it split my attention a bit too much. Miriam is a big fan of Morris Gleitzman and talked about his Blabbermouth, and Bali suggested Zana Fraillon’s The Bone Sparrow. President Obama’s talk about the ’empathy deficit’ was mentioned.

Miriam read from The Emergency Zoo, and explained how she loses herself in the book when she writes. She is her characters.

Bali then read from The Harder They Fall, apologising for some ‘rude’ words. When he started writing about a female character, it took him some time to understand that girls are ‘just’ people. He talked about how many poor teenagers never even consider going to university. Sometimes because they are the main carer for someone in their family, and they can’t contemplate getting into debt.

On getting started Miriam reckoned the most important thing she did as a child was to read. After that it was being a teacher, doing a writing course, and reading and meeting people like Morris Gleitzman and Jacqueline Wilson. The best thing about writing is losing yourself in the writing.

Roald Dahl was a hero of Bali’s, and he liked reading about Vikings and volcanoes. Later on Sue Townsend played a big part influencing him. Bali described his hard-working colleague Alan Gibbons, who travels and writes and campaigns tirelessly for good causes. The best thing about being a writer seems to be ‘vomiting [words] on a page.’

Can you understand the world if you read escapism? Miriam believes in a real place and a real boy or girl. Bali feels that in The Lord of the Rings the whole world is escapism, and he listed Andy Stanton for sheer bounciness, had nothing [positive] to say about David Walliams, and it seems the archetypal white man comedian comes from Stockport. He praised the way Jacqueline Wilson writes about hard work and ordinary children. And there’s Siobhan Dowd and Patrick Ness.

Someone in the audience had problems seeing how fantasy could be empathic, but discovered Miriam and Bali disagreed. To make children understand empathy we don’t need it on the curriculum, and there is no right age. According to Miriam you can’t suddenly ‘do empathy today,’ but you need to embed it more deeply. For Bali it’s economical politics in this dog eat dog world. And you should be allowed to have fun at school, because how else do you get to write about fish zombies?

As with letting school-children have enough time for fun, I’d have liked more time for the two authors at Saturday’s event.

Miranda McKearney, Anna Bassi, Miriam Halahmy and Bali Rai

Everybunny Count!

As we creep ever closer to Easter, I give you ten more bunnies. You can’t have too many bunnies.

And there are foxes; at least one for every bunny. I know what you are thinking; this can’t end well.

But Ellie Sandall’s new picture book is a counting book, and bunnies and foxes play hide and seek. So they count, and they hunt and they find. They have lots of fun, and so does the reader.

I like this new trend of bunnies being friends with foxes and wolves. Let there be more love and friendship in the world! And carrots.

Ellie Sandall, Everybunny Count!

Lit there

Or ‘sit there!’

After a morning of walking round Oxford, waving to colleges everywhere, taking touristy photographs, refraining from buying stuff we don’t need, even when it looks so tempting – Dobby mask, anyone? – it was good to get to the litfest venue for a sit down.

At our first event with Miriam Halahmy and Bali Rai, I managed a polite negotiation on not sitting where they wanted me. When it came to the event with Sally Nicholls and Sheena Wilkinson, I ended up offering to leave. I somehow don’t feel that 20 of the best – in my opinion – seats should be reserved for latecomers.

If there is a next time, I will arrive late.

On our way ‘home’ Daughter was enticed into Blackwells where she spent lots of money on some heavy books. I know this, because I carried them, while she carried the pizzas. Safe hands, and all that.

Early check-out and changing of the clocks have ensured this brief blog post. There will be more on what people said later.

Worcester College