I appreciate being able to go first.
And I completely trust the Gruffalo.
I thought it felt roomier on the broom!
Thank you to Axel Scheffler for the extra airy broom he’s provided me with for the present situation. Besides, I am someone who is happiest with much emptiness around me. Not completely, you understand, but enough room for the swinging of cats, and peace of mind.
Offspring were always too old for the Gruffalo. I’m quite relieved to discover this fact, as I tended to worry about why we didn’t read Julia Donaldson’s book. What was I missing?
I learned to recognise Axel Scheffler’s illustrations, and I fondly believed the Gruffalo wasn’t so much a monster; more an ugly, but otherwise really friendly creature.
Instead it seems there is a clever little mouse who really knows how to look after himself in many a tight corner. First he scares his neighbourhood bullies – the dangerous animals in the forest – by making up the dreadful Gruffalo. And when the Gruffalo turns out to be real, he avoids being eaten by fooling this monster, while ‘proving’ to the other animals he was telling the truth.
So, that was a surprise.
There is now a 20th anniversary special edition, with a forest play scene and cutout animals and everything. You could have lot of fun with that. Because judging by the queues for Julia Donaldson wherever she appears, her books remain extremely popular, and the Gruffalo is very well known. Look at me, I knew it without knowing it, or even being right about the book. We all know something.
(I still think he looks adorable, and that mouse is a sneaky little thing.)
When I wrote about Axel Scheffler and Brexit yesterday, I decided to look for my review of Room on the Broom, the picture book I bought almost ten years ago, and it was ‘old’ even then. It’s also my only signed Julia Donaldson. I chose Room on the Broom because it was about a witch, and I am no Gruffalo.
But it would seem I never reviewed it. I wrote about the bookshop event, and how keen the little children there were to hear more stories, and less of this boring signing business. They were young enough to have their priorities right.
I reread Room on the Broom yesterday. It is a lovely book; the pictures, the message, everything. And as Axel said, it’s about generally being nice to your fellow living beings, even if they are frogs or dogs. We all matter.
What the witch did – sharing what she had, which was room on her broom, until it broke – came back to help her in her hour of need. Karma. (Any future brooms I may have, will definitely feature the comfortable seats this witch conjures up for her friends.)
As Axel said, ‘beware, Brexit Britain – if you have no friends in a hostile environment – the dragons may come and get you.’
Axel Scheffler was awarded the inaugural Nibbie for illustration this week. He was ‘very grateful’ that the judges ‘chose me, a foreign EU citizen in Brexit times – that’s a nice gesture.’
I have had many thoughts about Brexit, and I have shared some of them with you. But I am always extra grateful when someone more important can say it for me, using better words. Axel is one such person. And this gifted man felt the award might be ‘a consolation prize. Or even a farewell gift.’
And there is that thing; a let’s be kind to this minority figure, just to show we mean well.
He points out that ‘it’s just ten months until “Freedom Day” – next March – and I – and my fellow EU citizens, many working in the UK book industry – are still living in uncertainty. We have, so far, no guarantee that we can still live and work here in the future. In a worst-case scenario, I might not be allowed to stay here by the time my next book with Julia Donaldson is launched.’
He quotes Michael Morpurgo who said,'”My uncles fought for peace, not for Brexit,” that Britain doesn’t really like the rest of Europe. And he’s right. That hurts, and it makes me angry every day.’
Axel goes on to mention someone I have often thought of in the last year, ‘my friend, Judith Kerr. Here, in this room, you have a refugee from the Nazis. — But after the Brexit vote it feels, despite our contribution, as if this country is saying, “It was all a mistake! We don’t really want you after all.”‘
And he’s concerned for the country’s children. Did the adults who read Room on the Broom to them miss its ‘message of the importance of solidarity, partnership, friendship and kindness? The book wasn’t called No Room on the Broom.’
Well said, Axel, and thank you.
The full speech is here.
Quest is the ‘younger’ half of the two Aarhus short story collections, edited by Daniel Hahn. I use quotation marks, because I am less convinced of the age ‘gap’ than has been suggested. Yes, it is a little younger than Odyssey, but I felt many of the characters in Odyssey were not proper YA material; they were children who tried out older behaviour.
It’s not important, as both collections offer a great range of stories from all over Europe. As with Odyssey, the authors are occasionally quite famous, and so are the illustrators, and I’ve come across several of the translators before as well.
Of the 17 short stories in Quest I chose to start in the middle, because I just had to read the one by Maria Turtschaninoff first. I might have a crush on her. The story, The Travel Agency, did not disappoint. In fact, I could want to read a whole book based on it.
It’s unfair to pick favourites, but I did enjoy Maria Parr’s A Trip to Town, about a girl and her grandma. And as for Journey to the Centre of the Dark by David Machado; you’d do well to have a hand to hold. In the end it didn’t go quite as far as I kept being afraid of, but I’d be happy to offer my idea to anyone who feels like writing scary stories.
The Quest stories are not as dark as in Odyssey. Maybe that’s why they are offered as children’s stories. And perhaps that’s why they suited me better. But, in short, I can recommend these two collections as a starting point for fun with unknown [to you] names in children’s literature.
‘If we are frightened of being badly treated in our own country, we all have the right to run away to another country to be safe.’
The above is a quote from We Are All Born Free, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Pictures, where you get the simplified version of our rights, accompanied by the most beautiful illustrations. This book isn’t new, but we have never needed it more.
There is something about the simplified version that makes the truth about what this well known declaration is telling us really stand out. Our leaders would do well to read it. Many of them are most likely in favour of our rights, while conveniently forgetting to act as though they are. ‘We have a duty to other people, and we should protect their rights and freedoms.’
‘These rights belong to everybody, whatever our differences.’
(The paperback of We Are All Born Free was published last year, and all royalties go to Amnesty International.)
I have been in Klaus Flügge’s office, and have seen the envelopes on his walls. They seem to be well known, which doesn’t surprise me. They are so lovely, that I believe I will draw an envelope of my own to send to Klaus. Let me just get this envelope review out of the way first.
Someone came up with the idea of making a book out of Klaus’s wall decorations, and here it is; Letters to Klaus. Many of this publisher’s picture book illustrators have contributed, but none more than David McKee. There’s a lot of his stuff in this envelope shaped little art book.
It might sound slightly daft, but it’s actually a rather nice experience to leaf through it to see what these clever artists can do. And the stamps were so cheap then!
Speaking of money, all proceeds from the book go to Save the Children.
(I’m pleased to have discovered that Klaus is most likely Flügge rather than Flugge. It’s understandable that the umlaut disappeared here, but I rather like it, and the name flows more easily when you’ve dotted your u.)
‘The real deal,’ is how Keith Gray described his co-eventee Patrick Ness. This time we had Patrick round the back for a photocall and that might be ‘bizarre,’ but you do need to treat a double (or should that be triple?) Carnegie winner as the star he is.
While we waited, we sat outside the yurt in the sunshine. My photographer in one of the fun deck chairs, and myself more modestly on a plastic, blue folding chair. It was a good spot. We watched Chris Close making Vivian French play the toy guitar, while waving her leg in the air.
And just as we started feeling lonely, Keith Charters came past. He stopped to talk, because he’s such a lovely man that he even chats to witches. Especially to witches. And as he regaled us with tales of Gillian Philip finishing writing her latest Sithe instalment while balancing on a li-lo in Barbados, he sat down on the somewhat soggy carpet at our feet. Which was so not a good thing. He resorted to kneeling after a while. That’s how I like them.
When Keith heard I didn’t yet have my Wolfsbane, he went and got me copy. Just like that!
While he was down, the other Keith (Gray) arrived, and joined us. He, too, brought a gift. Which was very nice of him. They are a bit like that, those Keiths. Then we talked about lack of sleep and courgette baby food. Admired the second Keith’s blue and yellow lanyards. So very Swedish!
After the Keiths wandered off, a semi-Swede came up to chat, and the Guardian’s Claire Armitstead joined us, doing a good impression of knowing who Bookwitch is. She’s rather like the Head Girl and I’m a little scared of her. But she’s lovely.
The time for Patrick’s bizarre paparazzi moment came, which was when Chris Close borrowed him for a bit, having him hide his face behind his hand, and later, rummaging through the recycling bin… (If that’s not bizarre, I don’t know what is.)
I had time to re-connect with Patrick’s new-ish publicity lady Sarah, and when they went to get ready for Patrick’s event, we wandered off to find Philip Ardagh and Axel Scheffler signing after theirs.
After which I headed towards the Corner theatre queue, to listen to Patrick and Keith argue about who’s boss. But that – as they say – is another story…
Rats, raccoons, spirally pasta princesses and The Ass. (That’s not rude, btw.) That’s what we have to offer today. Picture books have been read, and let me tell you how shocked we are.
It seems crime is in. And by that I don’t mean crime as a genre, which I wholeheartedly approve of. No, young readers are to be taught to misbehave. To steal, to be bad.
Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler have a bad – if nicely rhyming – criminal rat. A fat rat. The Highway Rat. He steals things off nice people. He’s not nice at all. But luckily he gets his come-uppance in the end.
Raccoons are no better. In Hannah Shaw’s School for Bandits Mr and Mrs Raccoon are concerned for their useless son. Ralph Raccoon is quite nice, which is so not on, and they send him to Bandit School. That’s not very nice for Ralph. Then he accidentally wins the Best Bandit competition, and he gets an opportunity to show his hooligan classmates how to do it.
In You Can’t Scare a Princess by Gillian Rogerson and Sarah McIntyre we have pirates. They need to be taught a lesson, too, and who better than Princess Spaghetti? (Personally I think she looks more like Princess Spiralli Pasta, but what do I know?) So much badness. And then you think the Princess has sorted those awful pirates, when in actual fact they only have more and better crime on their minds.
So thank goodness for The Lion, the Unicorn and Me by Jeanette Winterson and Rosalind MacCurrach. It features an ass with not just a heart of gold, but a nose as well.
You think you’ve read all the Christmas stories. They are all variations on the same theme and how many can there be? Well, this was a new one to me, although I see it’s been around a few years. I read it from a sense of duty to begin with, but found pretty soon that I loved it. It’s beautiful, and would be a good book to read with a young friend when Christmas comes.
Which it will do far too soon.
I always did have a soft spot for donkeys, though.