Category Archives: Education

Bookbug and the Bookwitch

You know it’s bad when you spy someone like Ross Collins across the room, and instead of scurrying over to say hello, you remain seated, because you’re so knackered that nothing will make you give up sitting, now that you have bagged a chair. (Not literally, I hasten to add. I have every reason to believe the chair is still at the National Library of Scotland.)

The Bookbug Picture Book Prize 2017

It was the very first Bookbug Picture Book Prize last night, and despite my home town throwing heavy-ish snow at me, I made it to Edinburgh, where they had no snow at all.

All three shortlisted authors were there, Alison Murray, Ross Collins and Nick Sharratt. There was mingling – or there was sitting on a chair, in my case – over wine/specially ordered tap water for me – and canapés. The nice men who were offering round the eats almost became my bffs through their sheer insistence that I have another one. And another one.

Bookbug mingling

Spoke to a very nice librarian who had come much farther than I had, and also through snow. We talked about how wonderful it is that all P1 children in Scotland have been given their own copies of all three shortlisted books. She asked which was my favourite (none of this bland ‘have you read any of them?’), and luckily we agreed on which one was best (out of three very good books).

Nick Sharratt, Alison Murray, Ross Collins and Bookbug

Then there were speeches, and after that the prizes were handed out, with Nick Sharratt being the overall winner with Shark in the Park on a Windy Day. Bookbug himself arrived and seemed really pleased to see us. Nick had to make a speech, which he claimed made him nervous. He did well.

Nick Sharratt, Ross Collins, Bookbug and Alison Murray

Vivian French was in the audience, and I made a special point of going over to introduce myself after all these years. She’s not so scary after all.

Balancing a small container of lettuce and prawns with tiny plastic spoon, I made my way over to Ross Collins, who I’ve emailed with but never met. He took my presence well, and he could chat while holding not only his own prawn thing but a glass of wine and his prize and an envelope which he hoped contained money…

As I did my last turn round the room I happened upon Scottish Booktrust’s strawberry milkshake Beth, so we chatted about her next book van passenger, who just happens to be Nick Sharratt, who will be driven to Liverpool. Where, he told me when I caught up with him, he’s never been. ‘My nice librarian’ got to him first, and had her photo taken with Nick, who was wearing an arty combination of three-piece tweed suit with orange tie.

Nick Sharratt and librarian

After this I Cinderella-ed myself away, since the trains still are doing inconvenient things like not running late enough. Walked past my cathedral which, even if I say so myself, looked splendid in the dark, with the moon hanging over its shoulder.

St Giles' Cathedral

And there was still far too much frozen snow when I got home.

Nick Sharratt and Aoife (3) read Shark in the Park on a Windy day

End of year miscellany

I did that sitting up in the middle of the night thing again. We’d finished watching the Agatha Christie two-parter Witness for the Prosecution on BBC, and I’d blogged about it on CultureWitch. I claimed I didn’t really know the story, and then – midsleep – I wondered why it all felt so familiar, and how come I knew what the plot twist was going to be?

Elementary, my dear Watsons. I’d seen it before. Quite some time ago, although not as far back as 1957, which is when the film was made. And then I remembered something else. The Retired Children’s Librarian had watched it and she mentioned she’d not come across the book, and I made it my mission to find the book for her. But could I find a single copy of Åklagarens Vittne anywhere? I could not. Some second hand bookshops even had waiting lists for it.

Apparently I gave up at that point, and then I forgot the whole thing.

Forgetting is not something St Hilda’s alumni do. I was incredibly pleased to watch Val McDermid and Adèle Geras succeed all the way in the Christmas University Challenge, winning by beating the lovely Leeds team. But Uzbekistan, Adèle? It was the middle of the Pacific!

Never mind. We got a women only team winning, even beating another women only team in the semifinals.

And then. Then Daughter let her ancient parents accompany her to see Rogue One in the cinema. Oh dear, the amount of eye-rolling that had to be done when it turned out we’d not understood any of it. The Resident IT Consultant was silly enough to ask. I was going to play it cool and say nothing if I could help it.

I saw the first Star Wars film back when it was new, when you didn’t have to keep track of all the numbers of sequels and prequels. I didn’t get it. It was nice enough, I suppose, but I could never work out why they did what they did, nor who was good and who was bad. That Darth Vader chap seemed nice.

But I quite liked getting out of the house, if only to sit in a tightly packed cinema, with a constant stream of little children squeezing past on their way back from the toilets.

I suspect we won’t be invited again, though.

Go girls!

A big Christmas thank you to the ladies of St Hilda’s, Oxford, for wiping the floor with Magdalene, Cambridge, in the Christmas Day Christmas University Challenge!

A Bookwitch obviously supports team Adèle Geras and Val McDermid. Even if they left me feeling stupid and uneducated. But that’s all right. Sort of.

It just goes to prove how much you learn if you read books. And, dare I say it? If you are a product of universities past. OK, OK, I know all of the participants are from the past, but some more from the past than others.

When she discovered that Adèle was taking part, Daughter was really excited. That’s until she realised Chris Lintott was also going to be on. On the same day, on the opposite side. Real conflict of interest there.

Chris did do well on the science/maths questions, and he might have had a misspent youth as regards Christmas number ones, but books rule. As did Adèle’s drama and music background. Not to mention Val’s intimate knowledge of comics.

Go St Hilda’s!

Lowering the tone

I was struck by how civil everyone was. At the weekend there was a social media discussion about a celebrity who writes children’s books. There wasn’t much said that was positive, but people were discussing the topic like the adults they are.

The only reason I was a little surprised was because a week earlier I had taken part in another online chat about a fairly new, and therefore pretty unknown, YA author. In fact, I only contributed my bit on the grounds that I felt someone had to behave. The author had a couple of friends who spoke up on her behalf, and a couple of strangers who also seemed quite level headed, but apart from them it became pretty vile. And these were also adults, and I found it hard to believe so many would say so much that was so unpleasant. But they were mostly not my friends.

You may be aware I’m a long standing fan of NCIS. So far this year I have been dreadfully disappointed with the way the show is going, and the episode two weeks ago reached an all time low. For that reason I was glad to find last week’s episode pretty decent, and I even went to the Facebook page to see if people agreed with me. Unfortunately the consensus appeared to be that if they were going to be muslim friendly, then they would stop watching.

I’m sure people have always had opinions such as these, but have not been so quick to voice them publicly. Just as the YA author discussion went beyond what would have seemed decent until fairly recently.

On the morning of November 9th, I turned to Facebook as I turned off my mobile phone alarm clock, hoping for the best but knowing I’d not find it. Two friends had posted; one a relative who was now very worried about her recent – prestigious – job offer in California. The other, a friend from school, and a brand new US citizen, who was ecstatic over the result of the election.

I’m sure you can guess who overstepped the mark? Yes, the latter. She was so buoyed up by success that she started posting so many offensive comments on Facebook, insulting everyone from people like me to President Obama, that I did that modern thing and unfriended her. I was pleased for her that she was pleased, but didn’t feel it gave her the right to say what she said.

The relative? I understand she’ll head off for her new job, and I hope both she and the job will be safe. There was one thing I’d not considered before that morning. I’ve known her since she was one year old, but I’d never noticed her skin colour before.

As for the celebrity, I will leave him alone. And the YA author is someone whose acquaintance I hope to make soon. At first I thought it might have happened by now, as she took part in Book Week Scotland, at a venue within reach of Bookwitch Towers. But we decided to wait for a less frantic time.

And all this is why I enjoyed the discussion at the weekend. It showed me I know lots of people who are witty and intelligent, and they can be somewhat rude, while still spelling all the words they use correctly.

To Sir With Love

I freely admit to having a Reader’s Digest past. Somehow some sales person must have managed to bypass Mother-of-witch and her frugal approach to most unnecessary things in life, and persuaded her to subscribe to those books. I have no idea how many of the abridged novels she read, but I got through a lot of them. I was at the age when there simply weren’t enough books around to read, and I searched the bookcase daily for more entertainment, and discovered that quite a lot of those odd looking titles were not that bad. Nice, easy reads, and quick, due the their abridged nature.

To Sir With Love by E R Braithwaite was one of them. It was probably also one of my best loved books on the RD shelf. That will be why I introduced Offspring to the film starring Sidney Poitier, when the opportunity arose, years ago. When Daughter was last home, we watched it again. It made us talk, and think about things.

Do you remember my Canterville Ghost Favourite Teacher? I thought of him then. Not long before I had read a letter to the editor in a Swedish magazine, and I’d wondered if the writer might have been him. Right name, and I believe, right town. And what he said seemed to fit as well.

So I Googled a bit, as you do, and came to the conclusion it very likely was Favourite Teacher. On Swedish sites you get some odd information, like date of birth, and thanks to Mother-of-witch who was also a teacher, I knew how old he’d be. And then I hit on the idea of Google images, and found a photo that could very well be him, ‘a few years on.’

At my age you can’t take for granted your teachers will still be alive.

Apart from being such a great teacher, and managing the difficult balance between fun and friendly, versus knowledge and discipline in the classroom, he was also the politest teacher I’ve ever had. We were between the ages of 13 and 16 and he addressed the boys by surname and the girls were Miss and surname.

Just like Sidney Poitier, in fact. That was one of the details I’d forgotten, but which came back when I watched the film again.

There were two Misses C in my form. I was Miss C at the front, while the other Miss C sat at the back. ‘Mats hört immer zu’ is a phrase I still remember, helping me know what to do about the German verb zuhören, while chuckling about Mats who never did any kind of zuhören whatsoever. And as all you English native speakers must know, ‘skulle heter would, skulle heter would, skulle heter would.’ As opposed to should, which is what we might have guessed and what Favourite Teacher was there to prevent.

And there were many more where those came from.

Two languages, for all three years of secondary school. I was very lucky.

He wasn’t easily taken in, either. When one girl asked to copy my homework, I wasn’t worried. She came back and said he’d given her [her first ever] full marks, while adding he thought she had ‘cooperated with Miss C.’

The last year we gave him a – collective – gift when we left school, because he had been our form teacher that year. He wrote each of us a thank you card, posted to our home address. That’s what I call class.

Treasure your library

It’s not new, this idea of saving libraries. People are working hard to prevent closures, or this idea of ‘merely’ giving the school librarian the sack, leaving the books to look after themselves. Lots of authors, and others, were out marching a couple of weeks ago in London. I wish I could have been there.

And then there was this open letter during the week from Chris Riddell and Malorie Blackman and all the other former laureates, to save our libraries. I don’t feel that this should even have to be on the to-do list for children’s laureates, past or present. The threat should not be there.

Yesterday I mentioned the effect of libraries on a couple of authors, one of whom won the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize this week. Alex Wheatle’s obvious joy on winning, and his totally unrehearsed speech on how the library [in Brixton] made him who he is, was very moving.

Whether we blame national government who really could shift spending money from weapons to libraries, or the local councils who are financially squeezed everywhere and ‘must’ save, is a matter of opinion.

Halmstad Library

Melvin Burgess BH library

But it shouldn’t be like in my former home town in Sweden, which has a lovely, newly built library, where clearly no expense was spared, which now has problems with vandalism. Mindless teen gangs come in – maybe because they are bored – and they are rowdy and they break things [toilets, for instance] and generally disturb the users of the library, forcing staff to call in security.

It seems they are now trying ‘youth leaders’ and they will hopefully have a positive effect. Or, they could try putting books by Melvin Burgess [see yesterday’s post] in their hands and making them read.

Let’s hope it’s not too late. I don’t have much hope, but let’s hope anyway.

The Wonderful Adventures of Nils

If you are looking for a classic Christmas present for a child, look no further. This retelling of Selma Lagerlöf’s Nils Holgersson is rather nice, and with the illustrations by Olivier Latyk, including some intricate card cut-outs, you won’t find anything more beautiful. (Make sure the child isn’t of the destructive kind, though.)

Kochka and Olivier Latyk, The Wonderful Adventures of Nils

Kochka, who has adapted Selma’s old classic, probably knows the story in French. I say probably, as there is no translator credited, nor is there one for the translation from French into English. (I’m on a translation track here, and would have liked the people who made it all possible to be present.) But apart from that, and a few of the expected misspellings of Swedish place names, it is very nice.

Snowy, even if it doesn’t all happen in snow, but it adds to the Christmassy feel. As a Swede I am also aware of the dangers to geese around this time of year. Watch out, or you are dinner.

Nils is a naughty little boy, but one who is surprisingly fast at recognising what he has to do, once an elf has shrunk him to miniature size. He needs to improve his behaviour and be kinder to all, especially animals, and he needs to help where help is wanted.

To be truthful, I no longer recall how much geography there was in the original, and how much adventure and improvement of Nils. But as Selma wrote the story to assist in teaching children about their country, I’d say the adaptation has mainly lost this part, and probably for the better. Not many small foreign children will want to hear about ancient Swedish landscapes. They will want the adventures, and – perhaps – the story of how one little boy learned a lesson.

My lesson will have to be that I had no idea the geese were given names from the Finnish one to six. But it’s sort of fun to discover now.

This is beautiful fantasy, i.e. perfectly normal stuff for today’s readers. And there is a happy ending for the dinner.