Thursday, 4 October 2018

IBBY UK Honour List celebration

IBBY Honour awardLast’s week celebration of IBBY UK’s Honour List was very special. The IBBY Honour List is a biennial selection of outstanding, recently published books, honouring writers, illustrators and translators from IBBY member countries. It is one of the many ways through which IBBY encourages international understanding through children’s literature. Each national section of IBBY nominates three books, one for writing, one for illustration and one for translation. I was extremely privileged to be a member of the selection team for the 2018 UK list. The books toasted last week are all outstanding: for writing, Tender Earth by Sita Brahmachari (on the right in the photo); for illustration, I Am Henry Finch, illustrated by Viviane Schwarz (on the left), written by Alexis Deacon; for translation, Wildwitch Wildfire, translated by Charlotte Barslund (in the middle) from Danish, written by Lene Kaaberbol.

Charlotte translates from several Scandinavian languages, children’s, YA and adult books. She explained that she only takes a book on if she can hear it in English in her head at her first reading, and only if she ‘gets’ it in her heart, as each book takes several months to translate. It matters to her to have a good working relationship with her authors, and this was the case with Lene, a hugely popular author in Denmark. They have had many rich discussions about this first Wildwitch title and the subsequent ones in the series. Vocabulary is always a huge issue in translation. Danish, along with many other languages, has far fewer words than English. There are also cultural issues to consider: how to convey things that need no explanation to a native audience but may seem very strange to an English-speaking one. Her advice to new translators: always read as much and as widely as you possibly can in the language you are translating into, to improve your vocabulary and use of language.

Viviane was in celebratory mood, as her British citizenship had come through that day. She always drew from childhood, and had a comic published at thirteen. In her teens she was told she didn’t have a sense of humour (ironic, since humour is immensely important to her in her work, as she told us later), and she took to writing science fiction. Luckily someone advised her to be an illustrator. She trained in the UK as her native Germany had no suitable courses and was quickly published. She and Alexis Deacon have worked together on a number of books, in particular ‘books about small animals that explore big ideas’. It was she who suggested a finch as the protagonist for I Am Henry Finch. She loved depicting Henry’s development into a self-aware and philosophical little bird. The book remains one of her favourites, along with her Tiny Cat books. She gains a huge amount of ideas and inspiration from her creative workshops with children. She never aspired to be best at drawing, caring much more that children see that they too can be artists.

Sita told us that she hadn’t intended to write a third book about the artichoke charm that first appeared in Artichoke Hearts and was given away to a poor child in India at the end of Jasmine Skies, although children told her they didn’t like the story ending there. Several books later though, she returned to the theme. The first draft of all her books is very abstract and fairly incomprehensible. She and her editor then work together, something that suits Sita, with her collaborative theatre background. All her books draw on real world issues such as poverty and hunger. ‘We writers taste the news’ she said. Authenticity, integrity and respect are crucial to her and she does a great deal of research, for instance about bat-mizvahs for Tender Earth. It was a very emotional book to write because Simon, one of the characters, was based on a friend of hers who died. She is passionate about children having access to inclusive books, and appalled by the decline in school and public library provision.

tender earth bannerMany thanks to Chitra Soundar for this photo of Sita with one of Laila’s banners from Tender Earth.

A fascinating evening. And good news at the end that the IBBY UK nominations for the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen award for 2019 are John Agard for writing and Helen Oxenbury for illustration. Two giants in the children’s book world!

Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Children need libraries – quotes on their importance

DSCF1083#The current downgrading and closures of both school and public libraries will have terrible consequences. Here are some potent quotes on the crucial role of libraries and librarians in creating readers and learners.

At the moment we persuade a child, any child, to cross that magic threshold into a library, we change their lives forever, for the better. Barack Obama

Research provides compelling evidence that library usage is linked to reading levels among children and young people, and that library usage and reading, in turn, are important factors in literacy skill levels and general educational attainment. Evidence Review of the Economic Contribution of Libraries

The education that mattered most to me began when my mother first took me to the public library and I registered for my own hallowed ticket. Will Self 

Once a child learns to use a library, the doors to learning are always open. Laura Bush

Libraries are browsing places, dreaming places, finding out places. So much education takes place when children are making choices of their own. Michael Morpurgo

The child who knows his/her way round the library is the one most likely to become an avid reader. Wendy Cooling

For all those children out there who, like me, loved books and couldn’t afford to buy them, all I can say is thank God for our libraries …… Reading should and must be the right of all, not just a privilege for the few. Malorie Blackman

Reading is the centre of learning and libraries are at the heart of this. Gervase Phinn

I see libraries and librarians as frontline soldiers in the war against illiteracy and the lack of imagination. Neil Gaiman

Librarians open up the world ……. How much more can you discover when someone can point you in the right direction, when someone can maybe even give you a treasure map, to places you may not have even thought you were allowed to go? This is what librarians do. Patrick Ness

Librarians are the custodians of literacy – they lay the stepping stones that start the journey from one book to another, widening horizons and the reading experience. Chris Riddell

The way to get children reading is to leave the library door open and let them read anything and everything they want. Terry Pratchett

Even the most misfitting child
Who’s chanced upon the library’s worth
Sits with the genius of the Earth
And turns the key to the whole world.
from ‘Hear it Again’ Ted Hughes

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Children’s reading: research, tips and articles

adult & girl in FoylesA new term, and there’s lots of children’s reading news and views to catch up on, illustrated with a lovely scene in a bookshop yesterday.

‘Digital text is changing how kids read, just not in the way that you think’ looks at the differences between online and print reading, and their relative merits.

‘Yes, teens are texting and using social media instead of reading books’ explores the impact and the prevalence of online reading in relation to teenagers.

In ‘Skim reading is the new normal’ reading expert Maryanne Wolf (author of Proust and the Squid) discusses the effect of digital reading on the brain.

A new study shows for the first time that heavy use of social media by children has been linked to lower levels of literacy.

‘Can you really teach children to love reading’ has lots of very useful tips. Libraries are rightly given a high profile.

There are loads of great ideas in children’s author Andy Seed’s Reading for Pleasure Manifesto. Highly recommended.

Have a look too at Elizabeth Hutchinson’s valuable blog on reading initiatives.

I found ‘How drama helps primary children understand books and stories’ interesting and useful.

‘Make sure your class book is age-appropriate’ examines the potential harm of teaching books that are beyond children’s age range.

‘Don’t bloody bore them: a guide to picking books for your class’ is well worth a read.

Finally, an inspiring story courtesy of the Guardian: ‘No turban, no sermon, just books for kids: meet Iran’s travelling cleric’.

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Inspired by India

Inspired by India 2Lantana Publishing held an illuminating and thought-provoking event at the Nehru Centre in London last week, inspired by two of their recent picture books: You’re Safe With Me, written by Chitra Soundar, illustrated by Poonam Mistry and Nimesh the Adventurer, written by Ranjit Singh, illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini.

The authors and illustrators each told us about factors that influenced them. Chitra’s love of story-telling dates back to her early childhood in India. She remembers hearing stories from a very young age. Enid Blyton, particularly The Magic Faraway Tree, inspired all the stories she told her friends and relations.

Poonam, also born in India, was always fascinated by Indian folk art, with traditional textiles a particular inspiration. Aboriginal art has been another major influence on her style of illustration, along with the art of William Morris.

Born and raised in Southall with parents from India, Ranjit said his real education came from the local library, his haven when truanting. Japanese and Bengali film directors, Shakespeare and Sanskrit epics taught him how to tell stories.

Mehrdokht’s interest in books goes back to her childhood in Iran. Her mother taught literature. She fell in love with illustration when an art teacher asked the children to illustrate a children’s story. She chose one of Andersen’s tales.

Both You’re Safe With Me and Nimesh the Adventurer have been extremely well received within the children’s book world, and more importantly by children themselves, both in the UK and internationally. We heard that huge numbers of parents in India want books in English that feature children with lives like theirs.

Alice Curry of Lantana asked the panel their views about ‘the diversity label’ and whether they felt pressure to reflect their backgrounds in their work. All had experienced such pressure, and all agreed that the label is limiting and unhelpful (although Ranjit pointed out its marketing value). Chitra told us she gets more rejections for books without Indian characters, and that publishers frequently request Indian folk tales. Poonam and Mehrdokht were united: ‘We are illustrators. We should not be defined by our ethnicity or religion.’ Alice said Lantana never imposes limits on their authors and illustrators. How refreshing to hear that Chitra and Poonam’s next picture book for them is set in the Arctic.

This piece was written for Armadillo Magazine.

Monday, 2 July 2018

Children’s language and literacy – a round-up of recent news, research and articles

overview - book awardI loved attending last week’s Redbridge Children’s Book Award ceremony. The buzz around books and reading was palpable, so this photo is the ideal illustration for my final language and literacy news round-up of the school year.

A new study shows that language ability at school entry is an important predictor of student outcomes.

‘What’s going on in your child’s brain when you read them a story’ is interesting and useful.

The Education Endowment Foundation has published an important new report ‘Preparing for literacy’, focusing on the teaching of communication, language and literacy to children between three and five.

Ofsted Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman has recently spoken about how vital reading and literacy more widely are in the early years. ‘Reading empowers children …… when you make a reader, you give them the world.’

In ‘Why aren’t children reading in schools’ Barbara Band analyses the reasons children may not be readers, and what to do about it, not least a school librarian ‘recognised as a valued professional colleague with specific skills and expertise’.

‘How can schools promote reading for pleasure?’ is well worth reading.

Clare Sealy makes important points about the necessity for daily reading aloud and highlights other reading for pleasure strategies in ‘We must promote reading for pleasure at primary school’.

‘On selecting better read alouds’ by Pernille Ripp has lots of valuable ideas.

In ‘Why asking how to get boys reading might be the wrong question’ author Jason Reynolds suggests that we need to listen to young people if we want to encourage them to get reading.

Do have a look at ‘For some children, reading feels like a cryptic code. We can help them crack it’.

I was very struck by ‘Vocabulary: What does it mean to know a word?’, which explores how to help children gain a strong understanding of words.

The International Literacy Association has published a useful report on reading fluency: ‘Reading fluently does not mean reading fast’.

Ali  Sparkes has three terms’ worth of practical suggestions in ‘Making the most of your author visit in primary’.

RedbridgeThat mention of author visits brings me back to last week’s ceremony, where children’s author Polly Ho-Yen wowed everyone with her passion for reading and writing and her humour. It was great too to hear Mayor Debbie Kaur-Thiara’s heartfelt belief in the power of reading, libraries and the summer reading challenge.