Tag archives: Maggot Moon

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Celebrating Difference

I went to a great event recently at which Sally Gardner, R J Palacio and Laura Jarrett discussed the theme of difference in their novels Maggot Moon, Wonder and Skin Deep. All felt their characters derived strengths through their differences from those around them: self- awareness, empathy and courage, for example. Palacio made the important point that their books transcend as well as celebrate difference. The theme of fitting in was a major one
for all three. Gardner said readers have loved characters who don’t fit in ever since Wuthering Heights. She told us that because of her dyslexia she has no understanding of a sense of belonging, so could never write about it. Jarrett asserted that the book characters who stay in the mind are those who are different. All talked about their books in relation to most teenagers’ desire to fit in, a desire that runs alongside a need to explore identity and try on different personas.

It was fascinating to learn the genesis of their novels. Palacio was ashamed that her reaction to her three year-old’s tears when he saw a girl at an ice-cream stand with a facial deformity was to hustle him away. She started Wonder that night, in an attempt to rewrite history. Jarrett’s inspiration for Jenna in Skin Deep came from her work with children with genetic and eating disorders, but the crystallising moment was her disgust at reactions to Susan Boyle. I loved hearing Gardner’s motivation to write Maggot Moon. Her family found her so unpleasant as a result of the diet she was on that they banished her. She thumped out her frustration on the computer, and the amazing Standish Treadwell was born.

The authors made impassioned pleas to any young writers in the audience not to be influenced by trends in publishing, whether in relation to diversity or anything else, but to write from their guts. There is a pressure on authors to get things ‘right’, and base their writing on personal experience, but imagination and burning conviction are far more important.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Dyslexia again – and Sally Gardner

I was lucky to attend Seeing the world differently: a celebration of reading and dyslexia last week. Times book critic Amanda Craig, Booktrust’s books and disability consultant Alexandra Strick and children’s and teenage books author Sally Gardner discussed dyslexia. Gardner (on the right) is so severely dyslexic she was branded unteachable, and sent to a school for maladjusted children. Although her dyslexia has most certainly imposed challenges, not least that she did not learn to read until she was fourteen, and then despite rather than because of her education, she views it as a blessing rather than a curse: the source of her creativity and imagination.

The panel highlighted the difficulties still faced by lots of children and young people with dyslexia, indeed the audience included several who had experienced them first hand, in particular accusations of stupidity and very late diagnosis. Everyone agreed about the need for more understanding of the issue, more support for dyslexics, especially multi-sensory and visual approaches to learning, and more books that feature characters with dyslexia and other special educational needs. All view audio books as enormously helpful, and see e-books as having revolutionised reading for dyslexics.

Gardner talked about her wonderful, very dystopian, new teenage novel Maggot Moon and its dyslexic hero. She showed several clips from the amazing i-book version. One graphically illustrates how text can appear to dyslexics. It’s the best demonstration I’ve seen. The words constantly move about and turn themselves into anagrams. I’m delighted that Gardner and Hot Key Books have made it available on YouTube. I will be using this often on courses about special needs. It’s a great way to help people understand the impact of dyslexia.

Teachers and school librarians may be interested in a new online resource I’ve just discovered. Dyslexia Action and RNIB developed Load2Learn to help dyslexic and blind and partially sighted school students. Curriculum materials can be downloaded in a range of formats, then adapted to suit individual needs.

It was great to talk to all the panellists and Hot Key staff after Thursday’s event. Strangely, I reviewed another of Gardner’s books, Operation Bunny, for The School Librarian earlier that day. It’s totally different from than Maggot Moon, much lighter and funnier, and for a much younger audience. What a versatile author she is.