Monday, 26 April 2010

A Birthday Weekend

Every year my birthday seems to sneak up on me and take me by surprise so this year I was ready in advance and with my husband off on a Duke of Edinburgh camping trip and my parents helping out my youngest sister with her two day old little girl I thought I would take advantage of the great weather and two lovely invitations and head into London for a day out.

Not only was I lucky enough to meet Lauren Child at the launch of an exhibition celebrating her latest project My Life Is A Story, but I was also able to indulge in some great past times such as hopscotch, skipping and a tug of war up in Coram Fields - a wonderful fun-filled park that was packed to the brim in the April sun with people having an afternoon out.

The excuse for such the afternoon outing was the launch of the Adventure Walks books and a traditional British afternoon tea complete with cucumber sandwiches and jelly and cream! As if this wasn't enough I managed to fit in a spot of shopping and of course the obligatory sorbet from Selfridges! Enough of this birthday indulgence however and back to the books....

The Adventure Walks books are fun, family pocket sized books that encourage the whole family to get outdoor and explore, London and the surrounding area. themed walks take in history as well as geography and even a spot of nature. There is great fun to be had for all ages and lots to be learned. Becky and Clare told me how much fun it had been to go out and do the walks themselves and how fit they had become as a result. It was certainly proving to be a big hit, they were busy signing the copies being bough by eager parents and children were delightedly joining in the old fashioned games as featured in the books.

The contrast with Lauren Child's morning event could not have been more marked yet both were showing how books and their stories are shared experiences. Lauren may have been launching her My Life Is A Story exhibition and the stories of children from Mexico and other parts of the world that she has been involved with through her work as a UNESCO ambassador but she was also sharing with the children who were shy and yet eager to speak to her, the joy and pleasure as well as importance of stories - particularly That Pesky Rat recovered and with all proceeds going to UNESCO. Children loved being made to feel a part of the whole process, finding out about others around the world and working out how they too could be involved.

I had a truly lovely and inspiring day out and now I will be encouraging the children at school to share their own stories and find out more about other children around the world.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

A Conversation Gillian Cross

Gillian cross recently launched her most current story 'Where I Belong' at the Oxfam bookshop on Marylebone High Street in London. A small group of guests were there to help her celebrate, listen to a reading from the story and engage in interesting conversations about the issues raised by the story.

The book addresses issues of fashion, people smuggling, kidnap and being a member of a small minority group in the

UK. Gillian's writing is clear and compelling, the reader is quickly drawn into to the story and kept there thought its pace and hints of secrecy and mystery. A compelling story for all readers ages 12+ it is both thought provoking and enjoyable.

Gillian kindly took some time to answer a few questions about the book and the launch itself for all her fans and readers of Armadillo, what follows is the interview. Your own thoughts and opinions on the story and on Gillian's comments would be most welcome.

I read somewhere that ‘Where I Belong’ is a coming of age novel, to me it seems to be a book that explores i

ssues of identity – how did you approach it in terms of research and writing? I was intrigued by what it must be like to be caught between two cultures. This was sparked off when my attention was drawn to Somalia, as I explain below, but the book didn’t take off until I started thinking about how fashion explores and expresses culture(s). The research involved extensive reading, both in books and on the Internet, talking to people – including Somalis and a fashion designer – and collecting images in a scrapbook.

The three voices in which the story is told were the key to writing it. I tried with two at first (Abdi and Freya) but it wasn’t until I found Khadija’s voice that I was able to see how the narrative could work.

Why did you d

ecide to use Somalia as your focus – is it a country that you think is of interest to your readers or was it more personal to you? I met two English teachers who urged me to write a book with a Somali background, because there was no fiction that reflected the lives of their Somali students. When I explained that I didn’t write like that and that the story had to come first, they invited me to visit their school and talk to some of the students about their experiences and about Somalia. Naturally I did some background reading beforehand and one of the things I discovered is that several Somali women have become well-known fashion models. I was immediately fascinated by the extreme contrast between their original nomadic culture and the world of high fashion.

What would you like to think your readers will take away from the story? Have you aimed it at a specific group or would you like teenagers to pick it up, read it and take on board the issues of identit

y, family and the wider issues affecting the world – drought, refugees, wealth gaps etc. It’s a story, not aimed at any particular group or trying to propagate any view of the world. But in writing about Abdi, Khadija and Freya I naturally focus on the ways in which their lives connect and contrast. Issues of identity, wealth, worldwide connections and so on - which are all things that interest me - arose naturally out of that story. I’ll be delighted if the book’s readers also find those things interesting and thought-provoking.

Did you know much about the modelling industry before writing?

Sandy is rather an extreme character with some madcap ideas but I am sure that there are many designers with their foibles! High fashion and nomadic life were both strange and unfamiliar cultures to me when I started and I enjoyed exploring both of them. I was particularly interested in fashion designers who push the boundaries and try out ground-breaking ideas.

Did you feel uncomfortable when deciding to dress Sandy and Freya in full veils? It made for slightly uncomfortable reading but at the same time helped me realise how it could feel to be so covered up. That’s exactly how I hoped readers would feel about that scene! This issue was raised at the launch and we discussed whether it would be wrong to do this in real life. The discussion illustrated what varied and complex meanings veiling has in our society.

Do you like secrets? When reading the story it feels though on almost every page there is a secret. It does make the book immensely readable. I love stories that turn on secrets and mysteries. And the older I get the more I discover that real life is often like that.

The smuggling and kidnap are so realistic. Were they very difficult to find the tone for when you were writing? I tried to write about them in a plain, straightforward way, not being over-dramatic, but not trivialising them. I particularly wanted readers to take the kidnap seriously, even though it happens in a country which is distant from most of the action so far.

How did the as

sociation with Oxfam come about? Do Oxfam work in Somalia with refugees or are they there to help with wider social problems? I have supported Oxfam for many years and always been impressed by the work they do and the way in which they work with local partner organisations. When I was researching the Somali background, I talked on the phone to some Oxfam staff who had been in Somalia, who answered some of my questions and recommended helpful and reliable websites. Here’s the link to the Oxfam account of what they do in Somalia:

What was it like to launch the book with OUP and Oxfam in London? Were people very interested in the story and your reasons for writing it or in meeting the author? It was an extremely enjoyable launch and people asked the kind of questions you’ve asked here. Some peo

ple knew quite a lot about the Somali background and one person, in particular, had an interesting anecdote about an experience where she was encouraged to wear a veil. It was good to talk with people who took the setting and the book and its characters so seriously.

As an individual do the issues in your story concern you? Are they close to your heart? Do you try, as a writer, to express personal feelings in your writing. Before I began this book, I already felt very strongly about the imbalances and conflicts in the world, but I didn’t consciously write about those feelings. I was more concerned with the topics themselves and the ways in which they impact on the characters. When I write, I always feel that I’m exploring and learning, and it was certainly true in this book.

Thank you to Gillian for taking the time to answer these questions, I urge you all to now go away and read this excellent novel, take on board what Gillian has said and encourage as many teenagers as possible to read it, think about the questions it raises and enjoy a brilliantly written and evocative story.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Brian Wildsmith celebrates 80!

January 2010 was the month in which Brian Wildsmith celebrated his 80th birthday and on Tuesday 13th April he travelled to the UK from his home in France to meet friends family and fans in the London Based Illustration Cupboard for a private view of a selection of his artwork.

Brian has been writing and illustrating children's books since the 1960's and for all that time he has worked with Oxford University Press who co-hosted the evening. The small space was packed to bursting with all those who wanted to take the opportunity of such a rare chance to meet Brain and look at a selected showcase of his amazing work.

Brian works outside the traditional boundaries of illustration in children's picture books and certainly broke the mould when he first started with his ABC which is still in print and massively popular today. His current editor and the team from Oxford were thrilled to be able to present his work and celebrate his milestone birthday explaining what a pleasure it has been and continues to be working with Brian. Luminaries from the world of children's literature including Shirley Hughes dropped in for a chat and Brain was clearly thrilled to see so many people there for him.

His work, which is on display for a few more weeks in London and also in Seven Stories in Newcastle is quite stunning when seen independently of the books. The colour splashes that he uses as well as techniques become clear and it was quite obvious that whilst he has a distinctive style he has a wonderful imagination and understands how to appeal directly to his audience. Everyone I spoke to loved being able to have the chance to see the pictures and meet the man who is becoming a living legend, who drew them. It was a very special evening and on behalf of all the readers of Armadillo I wish Brian continued success and urge everyone to look out for his ABC, Animals, Fables, Nursery Rhymes and more. I have been told that we can expect some further reissues of Brain's books over the next few months and will certainly be keeping a eye open for them!

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Happy Easter

Easter is a time for celebration, it is obviously imbued with religious significance but its also an opportunity for families to come together and enjoy a long weekend of fun and games, Easter egg hunts and chocolate. What do we do with little ones when they are worn out with all the activity or with those who have eaten too much chocolate, or those, who like me cannot eat chocolate? My answer is of course books - we can never too many of these and I have some wonderful recommendations to make of books that are not just for Easter!

The Usborne Little Book of Chocolate is perfect for fact finders and chocloate
lovers alike for it reveals the history of chocolate from its origins in ancient Mexcio where a bitter chocolate drink was the favourite indulgence through to the soild milk chocolate that we eat today all types, and flavours of chocolate are considered. This book is sure to leave the mouth watering and the brain filled with interesting trivia!

Once this little gem has got the taste buds tickled then where better to turn than to an inter-galactic chocolate covered adventure story featuring a princess some rather mean aliens and a host of wonderfully bright and funny characters Gillian Rogerson and Sarah McIntyre have created a brilliant picture book to share with children, take them on a wonderful adventure and find them drooling over the many sweets decorating the pages, available in both hardback and paperback editions this would make a brilliant alternative to a chocolate Easter egg if you are stuck for a gift and is of course one that can be enjoyed long past this weekend.

As if this were not enough the story of Easter can be shared with Caroline Church's Here Comes Easter featuring an eggciting Easter egg hunt and a number learning exercise - a fun book that helps children learn on many levels and with a durable board book format this is perfect for even the littlest and most chocolate covered fingers! Finally why not turn to Val Gorbachev's charming Little Chick, the story a mother hen and her lost chick told with charm and wit this is the story of how one missing chick causes a great search, only to be found safe and sound taking a nap - will any of the characters learn? Turn to this for a charming read and a nice wind down after a hectic day at any time but perhaps especially this weekend!