Tuesday, 24 September 2019

Author Visits: Wellington Primary

I'd like to say a big THANK YOU to Lucy Jones and everyone at Wellington Primary School for the wonderful welcome they gave me when I visited them last week – my first school visit of the new school year!

I had the pleasure to talking to Years 6, 5, 4 and 3 about reading and writing books.  They told me about their favourites, and in among a great selection, I was inspired to see that some of them had already read Varjak Paw and Phoenix! 

They had lots of fantastic questions for me – more than we had time to answer on the day.  So if anyone at Wellington has another question, or would like to say anything about the visit or my books, just leave me a comment below.  And in the meantime, I'd like to wish you all HAPPY READING – I hope you enjoy your new books!

Friday, 5 July 2019

Liverpool Children's Festival Of Reading

I'd like to say a huge and heartfelt THANK YOU to Jenny Holder for inviting me to the Liverpool Children's Festival Of Reading, to all the amazing teachers and children who came to my events yesterday, and to Wellesbourne Primary for hosting us all!

I had the pleasure of talking to around 400 young readers and writers, from a dozen schools around Liverpool.  It was inspiring to see so much enthusiasm for books and reading, and to hear all about their favourite stories!  Here are some of the tweets from the day.  If anyone from any of the schools would like to say anything about the visit or my books, or has any more questions for me – just leave me a comment below!

Monday, 17 June 2019

Author Visits: Putnoe Primary

I'd like to say a big THANK YOU to brilliant librarian Catherine Brugnoli and all the students and staff of Putnoe Primary School for the amazing welcome they gave me when I visited them last week!

This is a school where they read both Varjak Paw and Phoenix, so many of the students had already read at least one of my books.  It was a pleasure to talk to them about reading and writing, and to hear about their favourite books.  And it was a pleasure to answer their fantastic questions!  

It was also amazing to see some of the work that they'd been doing with my books.  Here's a superb Phoenix display from Year 5, who have some very talented artists and writers – some of whom I think will soon be writing their own books!

We didn't have quite enough time to answer all the questions, so if anyone at Putnoe has any more questions, or would like to say anything about the visit or my books, just leave me a comment below.  And if anyone missed out on getting a signed book on the day, and would like one now – you can always order one via Mrs Brugnoli and Rogan's Books.  I'm always happy to sign bookplates for readers!

Thursday, 9 May 2019

Jan Pieńkowski – BookTrust Lifetime Achievement Award

I was hugely honoured to be one of the judges for the BookTrust Lifetime Achievement Award this year. The judging panel was chaired by Nicolette Jones, and the other judges were Lucy Mangan, Ed Vere, Smriti Prasadam-Halls and Diana Gerald. We decided to give the Award to the brilliant JanPieńkowski, and presented it to him today in a ceremony at the Barbican.  You can read about it on the BookTrust site and in this fantastic picture essay on The Guardian; but some people asked to see the text of the speech that I made at the ceremony, so here it is:

This is one of the books that made me: The Kingdom Under The Sea And Other Stories by Joan Aiken, Pictures by Jan Pieńkowski. I was given this copy of the book 30 years ago, in 1989, when I was university, trying to decide what to do with my life.

It was instantly familiar. I felt a deep shock of recognition when I saw those silhouetted wolves and horses; those stunning washes of dream-like colour. I was transported directly back to my childhood, and some of my earliest memories.

Because I'd had another copy of this book back then; a childhood copy, long since lost. I'd spent hours and hours looking at those pictures as a child. They weren't the kind of pictures you usually found in children's books. They were genuinely magical – the kind of wild, unpredictable, dangerous magic I wanted, which was seldom allowed into children's books, where things were more often safe, comfortable, and just a little bit dull.

But these pictures suggested that anything was possible; anything was allowed.  They seemed to take me seriously as a reader, as a viewer, and trusted that I could handle it.  They made no concession to the fact that I was a child.  They just opened doors to infinity, and invited me in. 

Well, encountering this book again at university, I remember thinking this was it: children's literature was the kind of literature I wanted to make myself!  Because this seemed to be a book beyond age, or time, or any categories at all. 

That, to my mind, is one of the hallmarks of great children's literature.  I believe children's books are really books for an audience that includes children, but excludes no-one.  They are books for everyone, and that is what Jan has dedicated his life to making.

But it was startling for me to realise that these images actually existed, out there in the world; that somebody else had made them.  Because looking at them as an adult felt rather like re-living a fever dream I'd had as a child.  I had taken them inside me so deeply, they'd become part of my inner life, helping to shape my imagination, and the way I saw the world. 

Again, I think that's a mark of great children's literature.  Because it's children's books, more than any others, that make us who are; that shape us, and stay with us forever.  And Jan's books have done that again and again and again. 

It was astonishing to think that the same person who made these pictures also made the pictures in Meg And Mog, Haunted House, Robot, so many classics.  I don't think I'd put that together, as a child.  But I do remember being fascinated by his name. 

As someone with an Arabic name that's so difficult to pronounce if you don't speak Arabic, I've ended up using initials, to make it easier - I felt something unusual, looking at that name.  I couldn't tell how to pronounce it, or where this person might have come from, or even what gender they were.  Was it JannYann?  But I knew immediately that they were different in some way; they were a little bit like me. 

And as I looked at that name again as an adult, trying to find my path in life, something lit up in my mind.  The idea that maybe you could be different, you could have an unpronounceable name, but you could still make books; books that might become part of people's lives.  It was so empowering and inspiring for me to think that someone who came from somewhere else could become an integral part of British culture. 

I think everyone here today feels that way about Jan's work.  It really is a vital part of British childhood; it's impossible to imagine it without him.  He has shaped our culture at the deepest levels.  And that ability to shape a whole culture, across multiple generations – that, I think, is something that only the very greatest children's literature can do. 

And because that is precisely what Jan Pieńkowski has been doing for over 50 years now, I can't think of a more worthy winner of the BookTrust Lifetime Achievement Award. 

And as I personally have spent most of the 30 years since I was given this book writing children's books, reading them, talking about them – I would like to thank Jan on behalf of all of us who love children's literature for his extraordinary lifetime of achievement, and for his extraordinary example; for showing me that a migrant child could do anything, and that a children's book could do anything, too – absolutely anything at all.

Thank you very much, Jan.

Lucy Mangan, Diana Gerald, Smriti Prasadam-Halls, Jan Pieńkowski, SF Said, Nicolette Jones & Ed Vere

Thursday, 7 March 2019

World Book Day 2019

I love World Book Day! I think anything that gets people excited about books is a good thing, and I really enjoy seeing all the different ways to celebrate books out there. I especially love it when people dress up as characters from my books! So here are some amazing tweets I've seen this year, with a huge THANK YOU to all the readers, parents, teachers and schools who've been part of it!

Friday, 8 February 2019

Author Visits: Radcliffe Primary

I'd like to say a very big THANK YOU to Sophie Jacques and everyone I met at Radcliffe Primary School when I visited them last week!

I'd like to say an especially big thank you for their amazing PHOENIX STEP (above)! I've never had a step before, and was totally blown away to see Phoenix there, along with Harry Potter, The Cat In The Hat, and many more of my own favourite books.  What a brilliant way to celebrate reading – I wish we'd had steps like this when I was at school!

Radcliffe is a school where they've been reading both Phoenix and Varjak Paw, so it was a real pleasure to talk to Years 6, 5, 4 and 3 about writing and books.  There were many terrific questions – more than we had time to answer. So if anyone from Radcliffe would like to ask me another question, or to say anything about the visit or my books, just leave me a comment below!

It was then inspiring to do a creative writing workshop with some Year 6 & 5 students.  They were full of brilliant ideas, and in just an hour, they produced such original, entertaining and well-written stories – this is clearly a school with great writers as well as readers!

Finally, it was a pleasure at the end of the day to sign books for everyone who wanted them.  But if anyone missed out on getting a signed book, and would like one now, you can order them from the brilliant Pea Green Boat Books, who did a fantastic job on the day.  Thanks again to them, and to everyone who made this such a memorable visit!