Tag Archives: Bernard Ashley

Children can

Old hands Bernard Ashley and Gillian Cross have written a book each for Barrington Stoke. I feel what they have in common is that children can do many things quite well, and sometimes better than the adults.

Bernard’s Lena Lenik SOS is about young Lena who lives in London with her brother and their Polish parents. Both children are keen scouts, which is really what’s behind this story.

Lena’s mum is pregnant with another baby and Lena needs to show quite how prepared she is.

In Film Crew by Gillian Cross Lara and her class are on a school trip, doing arts for a week somewhere in the woods. They are extremely keen and have lots of ideas of what they want to do.

However, their teacher has other ideas, and he ends up getting in the way of what’s good for his students. Luckily the young ones take control and save the week.

These books for relatively young readers should help them feel that they can if they want to.

Higher Ground

Higher Ground

I have mentioned Higher Ground briefly in the past. Anuj Goyal had the bright idea to collect stories written by children’s authors about the 2004 tsunami, for the children who suffered in the tsunami. As it says on the cover, ‘stories inspired by the courage and hope of children who survived.’

Most of the stories are set elsewhere than India, because other countries were much harder hit. Not that details matter, but there are two southern India stories and a couple set in the Andaman Islands and the Nicobar Islands. It doesn’t matter where they are set, because you will cry over all of them. Either because it is very dreadful and sad, or occasionally because something beautiful and wonderful happens. I don’t have a favourite, but keep remembering The Christmas Angel by Cliff McNish.

Apart from the obvious fact of bringing people’s attention to the tsunami children’s realities, it’s good to be able to read more about children in countries we tend to know less about. People go to Thailand, but what do they really know about their holiday hosts?

It’s worth being aware that these stories are based on real tales from the tsunami. They aren’t just something the authors made up. I hope Tim Bowler won’t mind my saying this, but I sort of understood from a comment he made back then, that writing his story made him cry. So, what hope does the reader have?

There aren’t many copies for sale these days, and probably none for the charitable causes it was conceived in aid of. But if you simply want to read about this disaster which now seems very far away, it is possible to get hold of a copy.

Campaign for the Book (2)

Thank heavens for people like Alan Gibbons. Someone who not only thinks that things are wrong, but who does something about it. I have barely had time to take in all his emails and newsletters this winter, let alone act on them. Just imagine how busy Alan has been; writing, digging, travelling. Possibly even doing some writing for himself once in a while. Must find out.

So, after the lighter introductions, we settled down to more serious things. Question Time with the politicians, except we ‘only’ had Ed Vaizey and Richard Younger Ross, because Lyn Brown had been promoted to the Whips office during the week, and in this mad world that means she can no longer say in public what she thinks about a subject she is very interested in. A lot was said by those present, but whether any of that will ever happen is anybody’s guess. The panellists had reasonable ideas, but they would, considering the circumstances. The audience had lots of questions and ideas, and we could have gone on forever.

After lunch it was time for two wonderful talks by the librarians who have been in the centre of the storm, so to speak. Clare Broadbelt, who was made redundant when her school library was closed, spoke eloquently on what it had been like both before – when things were normal – and during the period leading up to the closure. It was a good thing to hear how many of her pupils had spoken up. They had started petitions, only to find them torn up and told they were rubbish. And the reading room that had been promised in place of the library has not materialised.

The second talk was by Cath McNally, librarian from the Wirral, where they have an awful lot of millionaires, but also a great deal of child poverty. If all librarians can speak as well and as touchingly as Cath did, then we have much to be proud of. She cried at the end, describing how ‘her’ children had recommended books back to her, which just goes to show how much influence the library has had. I wonder if the suggested small stock of books in the GP’s surgery will have quite the same effect?

Gillian Cross spoke about her use of the mobile library, both forty years ago, and now, noting the changes in needs. The difference is the internet and as she said, the old ways won’t be coming back.  Miranda McKearney from the Reading Agency and Marilyn Mottram from the UK Literacy Association spoke about their findings from experience and research. According to Marilyn there is plenty of money out there; we just need to look for it in different places. Martyn Coles, head teacher at the City of London Academy, is unusual in his love for libraries in schools, and he reckons that architects need to be pushed in the right direction by caring head teachers, if new schools are to be built with sensible libraries.

After a number of smaller workshops, the day finished with Beverley Naidoo and Frank Cottrell Boyce. Beverley spoke movingly about her own early experiences from South Africa. Post-Sharpeville Beverley learnt to look at things in new ways, and she was introduced to other types of books than those she’d been reading. She mentioned a number of books that have helped her and inspired her. She was saying how wonderful it would be if our taxes were spent on books instead of on bullets and bombs, and her vision of planes dropping books instead is a powerful one. She told a Nigerian friend about coming to this Campaign for the Book conference, and her friend was shocked that we in the UK would need a conference like this. Beverley quoted Susan Sontag,  ‘libraries are a precious treasure chest.’

Frank Cottrell Boyce told a long and funny tale about his daughter’s tin whistle ‘lessons’, which was a random way of describing how anything that is good should be taught. You share, rather than teach. He had had a recent bad school visit, which convinced him of how books should not be treated in schools. As Frank pointed out, his own father had taught him a love of football by playing it with him, not by turning it into lessons. One of Frank’s daughters who is not into reading, had been given Northanger Abbey on her iPod. Apparently Austen doesn’t work so well on shuffle, however; you just don’t know who is married to whom or for how long.

Alan Gibbons finished by saying that he is in this for the long haul. He wants more names on his petition, and he wants us all to organise many smaller local meetings like Saturday’s conference. He’d like authors to adopt an area as their own. ‘A library without a librarian is no library, but a room.’

Campaign for the Book (1)

Alan Gibbons

As I usually seem to do, I ran into Fiona Dunbar in the Ladies at the start of the proceedings of the Campaign for the Book. Since this was held in the impressive King Edward School in Birmingham, which is a boys’ school, we have to be grateful for there being facilities for us girls at all. And while in toilet mode, I may as well admit to ending the day in the Gents, where the lone male customer was showing considerable courage in the face of so many women invading.

Having spent a whole day looking into the future of libraries in schools there is a lot of stuff to tell, so let the number one in the title be a warning that I will not disclose all right now. In actual fact, having begun by not being serious, I may as well continue not being serious. I had a surprisingly easy journey, only getting a little lost cutting through Birmingham University. That is despite the great help from that super-organiser Jean Allen, librarian at KES. Beautifully visible in cerise, and with a beautifully audible voice – so many people whisper, you know – Jean masterminded a first class event. Lots of food. Good food. Things worked.

Fiona Dunbar and Catherine Johnson

I have always wanted to write the words stone mullioned windows. There! I have done it! They had them, you see. Great Hall. The school’s Chief Master (what a title!) spoke. He’s a former pupil, along with his mate Lee Child (who I distinctly remember saying a few years ago that he had had an ordinary English school background…), and he was suitably amusing before leaving in order to stop his son setting fire to their house. Or maybe that was a joke.

Theresa Breslin

It’s fascinating with events where the authors are mainly in the audience. I have only listed the ones I know and recognise, although the list provided had more people on it. (From an alibi point of view I don’t want to state that X was there, in case he wasn’t.) Was pleased to discover Theresa Breslin was on the list, and worked hard at deciding what she might look like. She was, of course, the one sitting to my left.

Celia Rees, Linda Newbery and Penny Dolan

Alan Gibbons is the driving force behind the whole campaign, so he was there. Celia Rees had a speaking role, and so did Gillian Cross. Steve Skidmore kept people in order during one discussion, and Beverley Naidoo and Frank Cottrell Boyce ended the day.

Gillian Cross

We had two sittings for lunch, and if I say that I first lunched with Theresa Breslin and later with Fiona Dunbar and Lucy Coats, you’ll wrongly assume I ate twice. I just didn’t leave when I should have, since it was so nice to finally meet Facebook friend Lucy.

Most of the 200 conference goers were librarians and others similarly occupied. And not a single Gudrun Sjödén stripe in sight. With so much on the programme I was amazed to find we finished on time. I had done a little autograph hunting during the day (my bag would have been a lot lighter with fewer books carted round), and then I finished off the day’s hunt by catching Gillian Cross and Beverley Naidoo as they were leaving.

Bernard Ashley, Lucy Coats and Fiona Dunbar

The Haggis-knee played up on the way back through the university, so some hobbling was engaged in, and I was overtaken by loads of librarians. Like the famous tortoise however, I caught the train and they didn’t. Ticket issues, I believe. Found Beverley Naidoo again at New Street station, where I was also offered a Malteser by polite young Muslim man. All in all, very nice.

(Sincere apologies for being such a very dreadful photographer.)

Anthologies for charity

I mentioned the anthology Like Mother, Like Daughter the other day. I have a couple of other story collections too, that were both published in aid of charity. Unlike Amnesty International’s Click, which was one story written by different authors in a literary relay, these are simply short stories by well known authors.

Higher Ground is all about the 2004 tsunami, and was published only months after the disaster. Sixteen children’s authors each wrote a story based on what happened to a real child, somewhere in the world during that period. It’s very sad and very uplifting. Definitely worth having a few hankies standing by for when you read it. The authors are Melvin Burgess, Gillian Cross, Tim Bowler, Bernard Ashley, Eoin Colfer and many more, with foreword by Michael Morpurgo. Highly recommended.

Last year ten authors, hand-picked by readers of Cosmo Girl, wrote a short story each for Shining On, sold in aid of Teenage Cancer Trust. We’ve got Melvin Burgess again, as the lone boy, with girl writers Jacqueline Wilson, Anne Fine, Malorie Blackman, Rosie Rushton, Sue Limb, Meg Cabot, Cathy Hopkins, Meg Rosoff and Celia Rees. The stories are as good as you’d expect from the star-studded line-up.

The witch is slowly – very slowly – collecting her signatures in these two anthologies. It’ll take me years.