Category Archives: Education

An Engineer Like Me

I’m the first person to be in favour of more science for girls.

So this new picture book about a young girl asking her gran a lot of questions about science, is just right. Zara does seem to notice absolutely everything, but then, her gran has answers for all of it as well. She’s a useful gran to have.

They go for an outing, and they come past all sorts of things that need questions asked and answered. Personally I’m not sure I trust the ideas behind loop-the-loops, but I have no intention of looping anything anymore.

And I have always been fascinated by Hedy Lamarr, who despite being a beautiful actress could do serious and useful science. It just goes to show how prejudiced I am. I shouldn’t be more impressed by her than, say, by gran.

Gran has all the answers, because she is, of course, an engineer.

Exam Attack

Yes, it will feel like that, at least to some of you. That those exams are out to get you. But mostly Nicola Morgan’s new book with the title Exam Attack is there to help you with your exams, and preparing for them.

Admittedly, in Scotland, the National 5 exams for 2021 have just been cancelled, which could set off a different kind of exam anxiety. But I reckon by reading Nicola’s excellent books with advice on just about everything, you can probably find something to help you with non-existent exams as well.

As ever, it feels like Nicola and I are on the same page, advice-wise. Without her book, I did the advising when Daughter had exams, but had we had a printed book to refer to, it might have been faster and easier.

It’s all common sense, but sometimes we need someone to spell out that sense, or we risk running around in circles like so many headless chickens.

If you’re lucky enough to have exams coming up, maybe check Nicola’s guide out. I am a great fan of self-help books. At least when they are sensible.

(I used to love exams. There was clearly something wrong with me.)

Starting school

Where do the years go? It feels like mere months since Boy Tollarp came to the Resident IT Consultant’s and my 60th birthday lunch. He was five weeks old at the time. Now on social media I see him wearing a blazer and tie and – admittedly – school shorts, as he starts school this week.

He’s not alone in this. Even a year like 2020 has children going to school for the first time. And it can be scary. I remember my first day, and I remember Offspring’s first days. Also scary. At least to me.

So books on what to expect and how to deal with any little problems are a useful thing. The two picture books I’ve just read will probably not become long term classics, but if they help a few children now, that’s enough to make me happy. It’s often impossible for the adults to guess which books will turn out to make a real impact on their small child. These are both lovely and might do the job.

Today I’m Strong, by Nadiya Hussain and her illustrator Ella Bailey, shows us a child who is often happy going into school. But not always. Some days she is bullied at school and would rather stay at home. She talks to her [toy?] tiger, who looks pretty much like Judith Kerr’s tiger, except less likely to eat you up. And Tiger provides her with the solution, and one day she goes in and deals with the bully, firmly and maturely.

So that’s that.

In My School Unicorn, by Willow Evans and Tom Knight, we meet another young girl, about to buy her first school uniform, and feeling worried about her life changing. In what looks like a magic uniform shop, the proprietor slips her a unicorn to keep with her at school. It’s a little thing, but it helps. School turns out to be fine, and one day that unicorn can go on to some other child.

Both books are diverse, and there is a [single?] dad looking after the unicorn girl. I’m hoping these books will help many young children as they begin the rest of their lives. And the usefulness of tigers and unicorns should not be ignored.

Killing the teacher

Benjamin Zephaniah’s Teacher’s Dead is a book well worth revisiting. More than a dozen years old, I’d say none of the problems have gone away. Black people have it as bad as ever, their rights eroded rather than having got a bit better. It was a YA novel I really wanted to read back then, and I was not disappointed, except for how life ends up for too many people.

With hindsight, I find my own review of the book quite lacking, although I seem to recall Benjamin was terribly polite about it. He didn’t do email, so actually spent time and money on sending me a proper card.

Now, I have looked for a better description of the story than mine, and I hope Bookbag won’t hate me for this. It’s so good, and the screen grab below is simply to motivate you to follow the link.

It’s more recent than mine, which just goes to show that this story will move the reader at any time.

More interesting than Sanskrit

After my earlier moan about there not being any events to attend, I did manage one yesterday. Not physically, obviously, nor ‘manage’ if by that you mean I could suddenly cope with IT issues. But after five or ten minutes of abject failing to connect to SELTA’s The Path Less Trodden: Different Routes into Translating Swedish Literature, Son sent me a clickable link, and there I was. So to speak.

As were they: Deborah Bragan-Turner, Rachel Willson-Broyles and Paul Norlen, chaired by Alice Olsson and ‘teched’ by Ian Giles. They were all lonely, and welcomed being able to talk to the world about their work. Admittedly, when it came to questions, Ian inadvertently dragged one questioner from the kitchen where he was doing goodness knows what.

One very important question was whether they had to have such impressive bookcases as their backgrounds. Or if they were even real. All five who appeared on our screens were backed up by books. Probably an unfortunate coincidence… Some tried to claim they had to be real because they were so untidy (but then I don’t believe they have ever seen untidy).

Translating is a fun job. All right, so sometimes an author might reckon they know best and have opinions on the English these people are paid to translate their books into, but it’s rare.

How they started was quite similar. Some early experience, maybe at university level, enthused them so much about Sweden and Swedish that they just had to learn more, which they did by spending time in Sweden, discovering how we live (I still don’t know) and having fun, and withstanding suggestions like why bother with a boring language like Swedish. Why not Persian or Sanskrit?

These days you learn a lot by attending the Gothenburg Book Fair, where you can speed date agents and make contact with useful people. There can be financial help with attending, too, from Kulturrådet. Good stuff.

Agents are the most useful. Not so much publishers. You might contact an agent, or more likely, they will find you. Sometimes an author finds you. There can be short – and fun – sample translations, and there can be full novels translated on spec.

Questions to authors are varied. ‘Lagom’ – not too many nor too few – is best. That way the author knows the translator cares, but is neither too unconcerned or too fussy.

Literary translations seem to be the norm with these translators, but they do get other work as well. It can be restful working on something different. But basically, this is a fun job. Maybe not so much the editing, but that is fun too…

You can listen to it here.

(There wasn’t so much as a ‘Hej, Mamma’ at any point!)

Laureate on ‘being lazy’

You can – probably – find time for ‘proper’ education some other time. You can do things late. If and when the children who are now at home all day return to school, I’m assuming the teachers will more or less continue where they left off six weeks ago.

Because even parents who have taught their children with diligence, and success, over this period, will not have done the same job as their children’s friends’ parents.

And for anyone who finds the current situation beyond stressful, any teaching will be hard to do. It’s enough to keep your child safe. And maybe do some of your own work, and also put food on the table every day.

I was glad to see that the Children’s laureate, Cressida Cowell, pitched in the other day, saying that now is a good time to encourage imagination and creativity at home. I sincerely hope she wasn’t wanting to burden parents with even more work, but intended it to mean that children should be allowed to work things out for themselves. A bit like the young Cressida did, in her television-free summer holidays.

The laureate herself is not being lazy. She has just had her two years of laureating extended to three. Well, it would have been a shame for all her plans to come to, if not nothing, then less, due to the virus. Besides it might prove hard to start looking for a replacement just now. We have other things on our minds.

But ‘just hanging out’ with the children at home could be nice (when you don’t feel like killing each other, that is). That’s what you will remember, and benefit from, once this is over.

Whose Shakespeare?

We moved Shakespeare upstairs over the weekend. Mostly this was because the bookcase he was in ascended, and Shakespeare is rather large, so needed the big shelf. He’s now in Son’s room, should the boy ever be able to return to it.

Anyway he went, along with the three-volume poetry collection from Linlithgow.

There was a most beautiful piece in Thursday’s Guardian, written by Aditya Chakrabortty, about his mother who died recently. I’m sorry for Aditya’s loss, but infinitely grateful that he shared his lovely memories of his mother with the newspaper’s readers.

Mrs Chakrabortty was a teacher. As her name suggests, she was not born in the UK, but she definitely did more than her share for this country and the people already here as well as those who arrived after her.

According to Aditya his ‘mother’s love of Shakespeare and Hazlitt was not an attempt to fit in. She claimed them as she claimed all of world culture.’

This set me thinking of how some people view Shakespeare, believing he’s there exclusively for the English. We all know Shakespeare in some way or other. His plays have been translated into many languages, and Hamlet is everyone’s prince; not just that of ‘cultured English’ people. We all have the right to know and enjoy Shakespeare’s work.

I would like to think he’d see it as an honour to be the favourite of a woman such as Mrs Chakrabortty.

Best and whackiest

It’s rather a mouthful to say or write, but Yvonne Manning who is Falkirk Council’s Principal Librarian for Children’s Services, is the winner of the 2020 Scottish Book Trust Learning Professional Award!

I know I always say this about winning librarians, because they are all so great, but I don’t believe there is one greater than Yvonne. Congratulations!!!

Finding this out now, made my day a lot better. It’s the kind of news we need when things are tough, and Yvonne is the kind of librarian we need at all times, but mostly when things are tough.

Yvonne is the one who organises the Falkirk RED book award, and she’s kept it going in the face of the ever disappearing money that has been the death of so many awards and book events. If you watch this video, you’ll discover for yourself what she’s like, and that giving up because the funding went away isn’t her style.

I’ve occasionally wanted to be Yvonne, what with her endless energy and her gorgeous, somewhat whacky, coats.

The event to celebrate her award that obviously isn’t happening right now, would have been the best. I can see myself there, having a great time. I’m sure there would have been deep fried cauliflower.

A book for World Book Day?

Not being blessed with school age children, I tend to overlook the advent of World Book Day (UK version). Some time later this week, I understand?

We always used to take part, because you don’t want to disappoint your child, and – even more – you don’t want to be told off by school staff for not entering into the spirit of the thing. But you can [try to] make do with clothes you already own, and go more for dressing up as a book character that you can find the right stuff for, than your child’s most favourite character, unless they are the same.

So, Son as the Mad Hatter wore the same jacket Daughter as Hermione Granger did some years later.

A few days ago my Hermione Granger pointed me in the direction of a picture on social media, which suggested that with so many children owning no books at all, then surely it would be better to spend any money you have on a book for your child, rather than a ready-made literary outfit?

Yes, surely???

Off my trolley

Things change.

And, yeah, you and I both know I don’t much like change. But this isn’t one of those changes.

Back in the infancy of Bookwitch – the blog, not so much herself – she wrote by hand, and she sat in her comfortable armchair and read books. Oh, the innocence of it all…

Daughter was still at school, and she needed to build me a piece of furniture for her GCSE tech. The teachers were still raw from her brother’s triangular table, so there was a complete ban on triangles of any kind. She designed a Bookwitch trolley to sit next to my chair, and where everything would go, from mug of tea and spectacles to current books and paper and pen. It’s on wheels, so I could push it around. It’s what I do best.

But now, I don’t do these things, apart from the pushing.

The trolley leads a more sedate life, mostly holding maps and large books for the Resident IT Consultant. It stands quietly, next to the two Oyster catchers in the window.

That’s life, I suppose. Needs change. Still love the trolley, and Daughter. Also still have the triangular table. (It’s behind me!)

Can’t say the same for the rest in this photo, which has a certain antique value. Wrong room. Wrong house. Young-ish looking witch. Much of the furniture is gone and the lamp has had its foot removed, but you’ll be pleased to learn I still wear the Crocs…

Eleven years on, we are coming up for Bookwitch’s 13th birthday, and there might be changes. I’m already at war with someone about Bookwitch’s looks (I don’t mean her in the photo).  We’ll see how that goes.