Tag Archives: Sheila Kanani

How To Be an Astronaut

‘and other space jobs,’ as it says in the title of Sheila Kanani’s book about becoming an astronaut. I never wanted to be the one to go into space, but this book reminded me that I did rather fancy a job in mission control. Yes.

As illustrated non-fiction books go, this is a great one. I don’t say this because it’s about space and astronauting, but because it has been intelligently written, with just the right amount of humour, and no talking down at the young reader.

Sheila Kanani and Sol Linero, How To Be an Astronaut

Sheila did tell us a lot of these facts in her event at the book festival, so it was mostly not new to me, but it still makes for fascinating reading. And I do like Sol Linero’s pictures, which are factual and beautiful, all at the same time.

(I would have preferred no white text on dark blue background, though, but I am old and perhaps wannabe astronauts are just fine with that. They probably have to be, now that I think of it.)

There are so many jobs you can do for space, and still stay on the ground. It means you don’t have to live off dried food or send your poo into space, or use special velcro to scratch your nose if it itches.

The book also tells us that there were women – a very long time ago – who discovered about eclipses and gravity (I would say long before that Newton chap), even if there was a risk of being thought of as a witch.

This is an excellent book to put into the hands of children. And you will enjoy it too.

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Farewell to EIBF 2019

Tom Palmer and Alex Wheatle

This may surprise you, but I occasionally wonder if I’m doing the right thing. In this case the ‘thing’ is children’s books and their authors. But the event honouring Judith Kerr this week, proved to me I was in the right place, and not even crime – the fictional kind – can hope to reach such heights, pleasant though it it.

George Street

There was such a perfect feeling of how good it can be, and I suspect that this is hard to achieve away from children’s books.

And chatting to Chris Close about Judith, I was pleased to find that he too had special memories of her. I was also a little surprised to discover that while he couldn’t instantly recall Daniel Hahn’s name when he walked past, he knows perfectly well what t-shirt Daniel wore in 2010. As you do.

What I was really wanting was to talk to Chris about his photo of Sheila Kanani [in Space], and I like the way he remembers virtually all the people he has shot in his spot in Yurt Gardens. Apparently most of Space this time was made up of St Abb’s Head, which I suppose is the photographer’s ‘bottle of washing up liquid’ in using whatever comes to hand.

Sheila Kanani by Chris Close

When it doesn’t rain, the new style Yurt Gardens is a good place to hang, as proven by the gang of crime writers just round the corner from my sandwich spot. There’s ducks, Chris, and the passing through of many people, who either are very famous, or carrying trays of food. All are important. (Though no ‘Kevin Costner’ this year…)

Ian Rankin and Phill Jupitus

What’s always good in the festival’s second week are all the school children. They have come for the same thing as I have, and often getting the most exciting events combos. I even spied a few teens wearing the authorial blue lanyards the other day. Made me green with envy, that did.

It’s not only old age and feebleness that determines when I attend. Trains have a lot to do with it. They were better this year; partly to do with the new electric rolling stock (pardon me for getting nerdy), and partly because I tried to avoid the worst hours of the day. But when the doors refused to open as we got to Haymarket one day, I learned from the guard that it’s all down to computers now. I wish I didn’t know that!

Elizabeth Acevedo and Dean Atta

We mentioned teeth in connection with Mog’s nightmares. I haven’t been able to ignore the fact that so many authors also have teeth. Well, I suppose most people do, but I am always struck by the wide smiles, full of perfect teeth. And not just the Americans, either. I’ll be spending this winter practising smiling in front of the mirror, but am not hopeful.

Here’s to EIBF 2020, when we will see more clearly?

Jim Al-Khalili

(Most photos by Helen Giles)

Blast Off!

It’d be easy to believe an event like Sheila Kanani’s about how to become an astronaut, aimed at young children, wouldn’t be of interest to an adult. And that’s where you’d be wrong.

Sheila Kanani

I have no wish to change careers and travel to Mars, unlike some of the children in the audience, but just hearing about what it could be like and what you need to learn, was Very Interesting. I knew Sheila does a lot of outreach in her job for the Royal Astronomical Society, but I hadn’t paused to consider what it might entail. Or that she’d be so good at it.

Chaired by Sarah Broadley, the session offered tables for the children to play at astronaut training with oven gloves, long colourful strips of rubber, pink rulers, headphones, Russian codes. And scissors. There were not enough tables, so more had to be found. The balance between the sexes was good, and you could tell these were young human beings who’d thought about space and travelling to Mars.

In real life you have to be at least 27, speak Russian and have a good idea of what to do when your helicopter is crashing. And if you make it all the way, you have to go to the toilet using a tube contraption thing, and for those of you who have wished upon shooting stars, you might not want to know that it could have been astronaut poo entering the atmosphere.

Before the hands-on play, we’d turned a water melon into Jupiter, with poor little Mercury represented by a peppercorn. Earth is a cherry tomato.

Sheila Kanani

Sheila, whose favourite planet is Saturn, wants to make people more enthusiastic about space science. She asked if anyone felt that it was a waste of money to invest in space research. One or two did, and they were gently told maybe they were in the wrong tent…

So, for anyone who wants to be a space vet – for the animals in space – or any of the other jobs ‘up there’ you know what to do. Start with Sheila’s book How To Be An Astronaut, and then get to work on your dexterity while wearing oven gloves.

(Photos by Helen Giles)

Fun, and hardly any rain, in Charlotte Square

It was an odd moment. There I was in the [authors’] yurt, and the two people the two Offspring aspire to be like, were both present. I don’t see how that can ever happen again.

Anyway. We had to be up early to get to Edinburgh in time, so actually got up even earlier and had breakfast before doing any festival work. Then we queued outside the Spiegel tent for our first event, with Dr Sheila Kanani, who just happened to be Photographer’s mentor at Space School many years ago.

Sheila Kanani

And afterwards as we hung around for the signing in the bookshop, we spied Frank Cottrell Boyce, looking rather like Chris Riddell’s alter ego, complete with flapping shoelace. Before we got round to tying it, I found Lynne Rickards, so had a nice chat with her, and I believe it was the day’s first mention of cellos.

Also chatted with Sarah Broadley, who was Sheila’s chair, before we all walked back to the behind-the-scenes area, for – well – more chatting. Discovered Jo Nadin in the yurt, sitting right where we all tried to fit in, which meant that the number of Doctors in the yurt went up again. We all had lots to talk about, and we were literally left holding a baby. Twice. I suppose we looked trustworthy.

Daniel Hahn came over to say hello from Son. I think this must be why I don’t see Son so much. He sees other people instead. Chris Close did planet stuff with Sheila, so we are looking forward to seeing the resulting photo after her workout in front of his camera. Meanwhile, Frank Cottrell Boyce came in, with a couple of young Cottrell Boyces. They seemed very nice.

Since I had agreed to meet the publicist from Sandstone, we said goodbye to the assembled doctors and went to buy a salad before finding Ceris, who was sitting outside the other yurt with a group of my ‘colleagues.’ Lots more chat, including the second cello reference of the day. There was also more space talk, and the books by Astrid Lindgren came up.

Frank Cottrell Boyce

Then we had to run for Frank’s event, chaired by Lindsey Fraser. It rained. It wasn’t supposed to rain. In the bookshop afterwards I was finding out why Lindsey had her arm in a sling, when Diana Hendry came up to ask the very same thing. Seems like you just had to stand still, and authors would come from all directions.

Chris Hoy

After some ‘light’ sustenance, the Photographer and I hit Charlotte Square one last time [for Tuesday]. Went to have a look at Sir Chris Hoy signing books in the company of his author Jo Nadin and illustrator Clare Elsom. They had a Very Long Queue.

Jim Al-Khalili

The last attraction of the day was Jim Al-Khalili, another doctor and professor and scientist and all that. Photographer went to speak to him, as one scientist to another. And possibly had a photo taken with him.

I tried taking a picture of one of the ducks, but that failed spectacularly. And then we went home. It was a mostly fine day. With much science. And space.

Duck

See, that’s the duck there, right on top of Chris Riddell.

(Most photos by Helen Giles)

The 2019 EIBF launch

The launch of the Edinburgh International Book Festival programme is the kind of event where when you squeeze past a couple of people to get to the Ladies, the people you squeeze past are Val McDermid and Jackie Kay. So you need to practise your best be cool at all times face, but I’ve got one of those. Except maybe when I arrived last night, and crawling (almost, anyway) up the stairs I came face to face with my EIBF boss Frances Sutton, and she was somewhat alarmed at my [lack of] Everest climbing skills. (I was carrying contraband, and it was very heavy.)

I arrived unfashionably early. But so did Mr and Mrs Brookmyre, whom I last saw four days ago as we left the Bloody Scotland launch ‘side by side.’ There was no avoiding Kirkland Ciccone and his selfie-taking mobile phone. But he was looking dapper, as everyone pointed out. I chatted to Eleanor Updale, and was introduced to Emily Dodd. There was a dog, too. Nice looking dog with very busy tail.

The proceedings were started by Allan Little, again, and it seems he’d promised not to cry this year, so he didn’t. He did mention it being D-Day and read a poem by A E Housman, and most of us didn’t cry.

This year the large tent will be the New York Times Main Theatre, as they are new sponsors, along with old-timers Baillie Gifford, and countless others. Also new this year will be live-streamed events from the Main Theatre, which sounds very exciting. We can, in effect, all be there.

EIBF launch 2019

As before, the triumvirate Nick Barley, Roland Gulliver and Janet Smyth presented ‘everything’ that will happen this August. As before, that’s far too much for me to mention here, so you need to look it up yourselves. Many big names will be appearing, as will many less well known people. My own experience is that most of these events will be worth going to, be they big or small. But, you know, Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy, former Prime Ministers, and a First Minister. Sheila Kanani. The new and old poet laureates. Konnie Huq, Malorie Blackman.

Finishing off with some Shetland poetry featuring a peat knife, it was time for more chat and more drinks. Eventually I even came across some vegetarian sushi (but I had my own sandwiches). Found out what Emily Dodd will be doing at the festival. Chatted to Kate Leiper. And then I lost Kirkie. Started walking to Haymarket for my train.

Phoned the Resident IT Consultant to ask where I was. Seems I made the mistake I almost made last year but didn’t, and this year I had come mapless, just to make my life more exciting. (Well, it’s not every day you turn 63.) Found Haymarket. Found Kirkie, too, on the train from Waverley. He didn’t know the way to Haymarket. But then it seems neither did I. He was sitting in a first class seat, but once I’d calmed down I remembered that those trains don’t have first class. It just looks like it.

So he didn’t get us thrown off the train, and it had been a first class kind of evening, and it didn’t even rain. It usually rains on June 6th.

Space on Earth

All right, I admit it! Even though I am very keen on space and astronomy and all that, I have entertained thoughts like maybe it’s a waste of money to send men to the Moon. Even though I thoroughly enjoyed the Apollo programme, and I have a certain fondness for astrophysics. A witch can still be frugal and ask if it makes sense to spend quite so much money on this kind of science.

It seems it does. And I’m so glad to know why.

It seems the space industry doesn’t use up as much money as we believe. Also that the money spent on stuff to do with space returns to us here on Earth in the shape of lots of very important inventions and discoveries.

Sheila Kanani and Del Thorpe, Space on Earth

Sheila Kanani has written this short book called Space on Earth, and it wasn’t until I read it that I realised why it’s called that. Science for space has turned out to be very useful for normal life on Earth, too. Just think, we wouldn’t be able to take selfies without an invention originally intended for space.

The same goes for satnav and cordless drills. Obviously. Our speakers are a lot smaller nowadays, thanks to space. And let’s not forget solar panels. They are from space too.

Space blankets for premature babies, and baby foods (for that long journey to Mars), cochlear implants and cancer detection, all come from space technology. And for more lighthearted science, we have sunglasses and the right clothes for skiing. Swimsuits for swimming faster, and cycle helmets.

This is fascinating stuff, and it’s such a relief to know that space science hasn’t been just for the nerds among us. For each chapter Sheila also introduces the reader to the scientists who worked long and hard at finding the best solution to a problem. And I do like the illustrations by Del Thorpe. I want to believe that reading a book like this will tempt many more children to go into science, and especially girls. Sheila herself is an excellent role model. In fact, I’d like to think of her as a mentor.