Posted in general and welcome

Farewell and thank you, Mr Bond

After a cold, drizzly morning spent helping out at my primary school’s sports day, I was cradling a hot cup of coffee when I heard the news that Michael Bond, creator of one of the most-loved bears in fiction, died today, aged 91.

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image courtesy of the Telegraph

Everyone around the table in the staffroom expressed sadness, and social media sites have been filled with sad faces and posts mourning a person who had given so much joy to so many children’s childhoods. While the stories were always gently humorous, they also were comforting. Reading them was the literary equivalent of a warm hug and I never lost that feeling moving into adulthood when sharing them with my daughter or the children at school.

What I’d never known until today was Michael Bond’s inspiration for Paddington. According to an interview he gave to the Telegraph last year, he had gone into Selfridge’s on Christmas Eve and seen a solitary bear on a shelf. “I felt sorry for it, and I bought it and gave it to Brenda, and it lived on our mantelpiece.” (I was delighted to read about another person who worried about teddies being on their own…)

Soon afterwards, Bond admits that he “…mentally dressed it in the same duffel coat and hat he [Bond] wore while riding his scooter bought from the government surplus shop. A legend was born.”

As is often the case, Bond didn’t find overnight success. He admitted to his interviewer, Victoria Lambert, that he could have pasted his room with rejection slips but never gave up. And thank goodness for all of us that he didn’t. Just think how much duller the world would be without the antics of Paddington.

I may just read one of the books tonight. With this sad news, I feel like one of those literary hugs.

Thank you, Michael Bond.

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Posted in general and welcome

Our future writers

What a wonderful start to today.

After a week of mud-slinging, bitterness and tragedy in news stories and on social media, it was wonderful to hear Chris Evans and his team celebrating our future writers via the annual 500 words competition.

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Back in February, I was sent a tranche of entries to judge in the 10-13 years-old category. Even at this early stage I was struck by the imagination of these young people. It was hard to select a shortlist because I wanted to reward everyone who had entered for taking the time and effort, for daring to put pen to paper and produce a complete story in such few words (it’s actually pretty hard!).

As I listened to the winning entries, I had to keep reminding myself that the writers were all under the age of 14. The ability and talent were amazing, inspirational and a salve to the unkindness and sadness in the rest of the world. There were hilarious tales of prosthetics for slugs, a beard for a lady, and a rather yobbish Miss Riding Hood who increasingly drives a polite Mr Wolf to despair. Then a tale filled with horror and suspense based on Jack and Jill which made me envious as a wannabe ghost story writer. One of the most moving entries was by Lauren Cook, in the 5-9 years-old category, called The Kindest of Strangers, which looks at how a hungry, homeless man gives his last piece of food to a girl he thinks is even hungrier than him.

As David Walliams commented, on the standard of entries: “I feel like giving up.”

You can read all the shortlisted stories here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/KNWsKPrg7stQ54tTbcf6P7/500-words-the-stories

So today, after a week of becoming increasingly more despondent every time I look at the headlines or read updates on social media, I have felt my heart lift in happiness and gladness. We have some truly awesome future writers out there to look forward to. Let’s celebrate their success, and the wonderful initiative of 500 Words, which seeks to champion children’s writing. Let’s thank Chris Evans and his team for running this with such enthusiasm and commitment every year and for making it the fun and inspirational event that it is. And let’s applaud the actors who help bring the stories to life and thrill the young writers whose work they read.

You all did good today.

Thank you.

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Posted in general and welcome

Winnie the Pooh for Prime Minister? Why not?

While adults are getting geared up for the election and heading off to polling stations (I hope) to exercise their constitutional right, I decided to dedicate my Library Lunchtime session today to the importance of voting with some children from Year 2. I grabbed a potted biography of Emmeline Pankhurst and sat them down to listen and debate.

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The biography was specially written for their age group and had authentic photographs from last century. One they particularly wanted to see was Mrs Pankhurst being carried away by a policeman after protesting outside of Buckingham Palace. The book explained what the suffragette movement was and how she started it.

Her life story inspired the children to think about what it would be like to live in a society where not everyone has the right to vote but it had a few tricky moments – particularly when relating the violent methods the suffragettes used to put their view across – smashing windows with hammers, etc. The children ooohed and ahhhed about this, with mischief sparkling in their eyes and I felt a moment of conflict – I totally owe my right to vote to these brave and unstoppable women but I also had to remind the children that we can’t solve problems with violence, or else they’d go and clobber one another on the playground. Hmmmm…

We also looked at the punishments inflicted on these women for trying to stand up for their rights, including imprisonment. When I revealed that the women went on hunger strike to protest, the children were astounded by this (having just had lunch). When I then said that an act was passed releasing starving women home until they had gained their strength and then imprisoning them again once they were stronger (the suffragettes called this the ‘Cat and Mouse Act’),  this caused more bafflement. I asked them to guess how many times Ms Pankhurst was released and re-imprisoned. “One thousand!” yelled one child and I had to disappoint them by saying “Eight”. I thought this was quite enough but … you know … kids.

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The children had a basic knowledge of the suffragettes and were quite interested to hear more about them. When I revealed that Emily Davison had died on this day in 1913 after being knocked down by the King’s horse, they were amazed by the coincidence in date.

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This then went rather off-topic, as is typical of discussions with young children. When they heard that Ms Davison had died, they started telling me about all their relatives who had died, and then asking each other what the cause of death was, and then talking about attending (or not) the parades (funerals) of family members. Apparently having white hair can be a cause of death – I did not previously know this.

Anyway, I then asked who they would vote for if they could today. A couple of girls shouted “Jeremy Corbyn!”, having heard his name a lot at home. The majority of children didn’t really know the electoral options, so I widened the scope. If they could pick anyone – real or imaginary – to lead the country, who would they choose?

One girl picked herself – “Because I like me!”

Another picked Jesus – “Because he was a very nice man”

And another picked Winnie the Pooh – “I like him!”

I think that’s a pretty good field, actually.

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Which fictitious character would you vote for?

 

Posted in general and welcome, picture books

Rhyming seating plans for animals

When deciding where animals should sit, the best plan is to do so through rhymes. Or so says Frog in Oi Dog! the hilarious follow-up to award-winning Oi Frog! by Kes and Clare Gray and Jim Field, published by Hodder Children’s.

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What it’s about
Frog is fed up with dogs sitting on frogs (understandably)…

 

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.. so he’s decided to change the rules: ‘From now on, dogs sit on logs, not frogs!’
And that’s not the only change. All the other animals in the book are reassigned, such as:

  • cats on gnats
  • whales on nails

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  • and – the children’s favourite – elephants must sit on smelly pants:

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But what will frog sit on? I’ll give you one hint – it won’t be on logs. Instead, the frog in our story decides that amphibians like him can sit on something far more comfortable and non-rhyming.

The children loved this book – it’s fast-paced, witty, unpredictable and rhyming. The frog is cheeky – another big plus for a child audience – and he’s also pretty clever, too. Reading it aloud encouraged the children to participate in guessing what rhymes the frog might come up with for the different animals. At the end, there’s also an opportunity to test their memory skills when Cat and Dog restate the different seating options.

As part of our weekly Library Lunchtime, I decided to base an activity on the book. While we all admired the frog’s cunning, we felt that he needed some punishment for the outcomes he inflicted on his acquaintances. Therefore, I sketched a quick and rather bad version of Frog on a piece of paper (sorry Jim Field!) and asked the children to come up with their own ideas for what he could sit on. The results were interesting, but also pretty violent (worrying!):

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(L-R) Tom was actually quite kind and allowed Frog to sit on a scooter, while Gabe gave him thorns and Isabella allocated him a volcanic seat with a dog sitting on his head.

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(L-R) Seth felt that a bomb with nails was suitable, Hayden preferred a volcano with stinging nettles and a gun, and Sabrina chose a bomb with fire.

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(L-R) Martina chose stinging nettles plus thorns in the Frog’s pants (ouch), Renee thought fireworks were good and another child, who wished to remain anonymous, afflicted the Frog with superglue and wasps.

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(L-R) Isabella gave the Frog a bomb and fire, Alessia chose nails and a volcano plus some sort of virulent virus that causes spots, and Jillian condemned him to Super-Duper Sticky Honey.

We’re super-excited to hear that a new book in the series – Oi Cat! – will be published this September!

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