Archive for the ‘United Kingdom’ Category

New Interview with Award-Winning Author Na’ima B. Robert on PaperTigers Site

Monday, June 17th, 2013

Na'ima B. RobertNew on the PaperTigers site is an interview with Na’ima B. Robert, in which I asked her lots of questions about her latest YA novel Black Sheep (Janetta Otter-Barry Books, Frances Lincoln, 2013).

Black Sheep by Na'ima B. Robert (Janetta Otter-Barry Books, Frances Lincoln, 2013)Set in London, Black Sheep follows the Romeo-and-Juliet-like relationship of teens Misha, a privately-educated “posh” girl, and Dwayne, a gang member living on a housing estate in Brixton.  Na’ima is perceptive in portraying the deep-down vulnerability of teenagers, no matter how much bravado they show in  facing day-to-day challenges – and no matter how much that bravado itself precipitates consequences that risk spiralling out of control.  Black Sheep is a real page-turner and should come with a warning that once started, it’s almost impossible to get anything else done!

When I asked Na’ima about her recent school visits in the UK, it was great to hear the impact Black Sheep has had:

I visited a Catholic school in North London and, apparently, the class that had been assigned the book was so into it, that they told the other classes, who begged to be assigned it as well. They totally identified with the characters and there was a sense of amazement that this life – urban, Black British life – had been portrayed in a book. We had some great re-enactments and readings together and they created portfolios that included illustrations, trailers, letters and character profiles. It was a wonderful experience and it was duplicated in the classes in a different school that read Far from Home.

So do head on over to the PaperTigers site to read the full interview and find out more about Na’ima’s books and her writing, and then visit her website

Poetry Friday: Congratulations to John Agard, winner of the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry 2012

Friday, December 21st, 2012

Yesterday it was announced that poet John Agard has been awarded the Queen’s Medal for Poetry.  And what is especially exciting about this news?  Well, apart from the fact that this fine poet’s work has been suitably recognised, it’s exciting also because much of Agard’s wonderful poetry is aimed at young people.  The Poetry Archive website, a great place to begin exploring Agard’s work,  describes him as a “unique and energetic force in contemporary British poetry” – and two of his collections were highlighted in his selection for the Medal: Alternative Anthem: Selected Poems (Bloodaxe Books, 2009), which along with an accompanying DVD brings together performances of some of his best poetry spanning 30 years; and his recent book Goldilocks on CCTV (Frances Lincoln, 2011).

John Agard was born in Guyana in 1949 and moved to the UK in the 1970s.  Along with his partner, fellow-poet and often co-author Grace Nichols, Agard has been an important voice for promoting awareness of Caribbean culture in the UK, breaking down barriers and broadening perspectives on poetry (and he is currently one of the Advisors for the Caribbean Poetry Project). The British Poet Laureate Carol Ann  Duffy says:

John Agard has always made people sit up and listen. He has done this with intelligence, humour and generosity. He has the ability to temper anger with wit and difficult truths with kindness. He levels the ground beneath all our feet, whether he is presenting Dante to children or introducing his own (Guyanan) culture to someone who hasn’t encountered it before. In performance he is electrifying – compelling, funny, moving and thought-provoking. His work in Education over years has changed the way that readers, writers and teachers think about poetry.

Here he is reciting his superb “Listen Mr Oxford Don”, one of the poems on the John Agard Live! DVD created by Pamela Robertson-Pearce to accompany Alternative Anthem:


I recently selected Agard’s The Young Inferno in my Top Ten Multicultural Ghost StoriesGoldilocks on CCTV continues the inspired partnership of Agard’s poetry with Satoshi Kitamura as illustrator and the contemporary take on fairy-tales  is just wonderful!  You can read “Pumpkin Biker Cinderella” on the Frances Lincoln Website (go to the “Excerpt” tab), and here’s a video of a dead-pan Agard reading the hilarious title poem:

And finally, since our current theme at PaperTigers is Cats and Dogs, do read “Books Make Good Pets” – witty and wonderful!

This week’s Poetry Friday is hosted by Heidi at My Juicy Little Universe – head on over…

Poetry Friday: I Saw a Peacock with a Fiery Tail, illustrated by Ramsingh Urveti

Friday, December 7th, 2012

Illustrated by Ramsingh Urveti, designed by Jonathan Yamakami,
I Saw a Peacock with a Fiery Tail
Tara Books, 2011.

Ages: 8+

The glorious blue and intriguing cut-outs on the cover of this truly stunning book just beg you to pick it up and explore its pages.  As you open the book, the feathered (or is it fiery?) eye leaves the peacock’s head behind, and you have to keep on turning until you find the whole bird.  From then on, each page reveals a half-line of the anonymous seventeenth-century English nonsense/puzzle poem that makes up the text.  The clever cut-outs mean you can read the poem in two ways – in its original tricky layout that offers a surreal, perplexing view of all the amazing things that “I saw,” or the more logical sequence created by joining the second half of the former line to the first half of the latter:

I saw a peacock with a fiery tail
I saw a blazing comet drop down hail
I saw a cloud… [you can read the whole poem here]

The secret is in the lack of punctuation throughout and the poem would make a fun punctuation task for younger children to work out – but the poem offers much more than a school exercise and is a delight for people of all ages to ponder the essence of poetry.  Joined here with Ramsingh Urveti’s combination of black on white and white on black art influenced by his Gond roots, and Jonathan Yamakami’s imaginative book design, I Saw a Peacock with a Fiery Tale is a veritable feast for any poetry lover.

This is Urveti’s first solo book but he was a contributor to Tara Books’ much loved The Nightlife of Trees (New Horizons Award 2008).  Here, his artwork is extraordinary in the way it manages to convey all the twists and turns of the poem whether puzzling or logical.  He incorporates the recurring “I saw” inventively throughout.  The ebb and flow of the different scales alluded to, from a mighty oak to a tiny ant, are reflected in the intensity of the patterns that at times seem to froth from the page.  The book’s physical design is full of surprises right to the end: and this is a very physical book.  In the age of the e-book, this is an oasis for anyone who loves the physicality of the book.  If you think you know just the person you’d like to give it to, you might have to get hold of two copies – this is one of those books that would otherwise be impossible to give away!

This week’s Poetry Friday is hosted by Robyn Hood Black at Read, Write, Howl – head on over.

Week-end Book review: Om Shanti Babe by Helen Limon

Sunday, October 21st, 2012

Helen Limon,
Om Shanti, Babe
Frances Lincoln, 2012.

Ages: 9-12

Fourteen-year-old Cassia has just arrived in Kerala with her mum, who’s on a buying trip for her Fair Trade craft shop back in London.  It’s her first visit to India and she’s very excited.  However, things don’t quite fit in with her pre-conceptions, and she is shaken by the discovery that the shop is facing closure and her (divorced) mother has a boyfriend.

Gradually, however, Cass becomes less self-absorbed and defensive.  An eventful train-ride to the coast leads to an injection of romance into the plot.  She becomes caught up in a campaign to save the village and the ecologically important mangrove swamps from being destroyed to make way for a luxury holiday resort. After a shaky start, Cass and fashion-designer-to-be Priyanka become friends.  When they discover that their shared idol Jonny Gold will be recording the video for his latest song Om Shanti Babe on their very beach, they swing into action to get him to back their campaign – and Cass concocts a plan to save Mum’s shop while she’s at it.  However, two discoveries undermine all their plans and Cass finds herself back where she started, feeling unloved and rejected.  Now, however, she is no longer an outsider.  With friends to depend on, as well as her own resourcefulness, all is not lost…

Author Helen Limon brings the sights and sounds of India alive through Cass’ eyes – the traffic and the trains; the scents of perfume oils and beeswax; and the textures and vibrancy of Indian fabrics: but also some shocking vignettes that remind Cass (and readers) that she must respond to each new experience according to how it is and not how she expects it to be – for example, a stray dog she is about to pet, when she realises it is covered in sores.  Limon skilfully portrays Cass’ transformation from a self-centred girl with rather shallow ideas of India as split between Bollywood glamour and abject poverty with nothing in between, to a team-player with a deeper appreciation of the validity of cultural differences and a shared humanity, minus the stereotypes.  Cass is not the only character who has to reassess her views, however, and the deft way in which Limon addresses stereotyping from a variety of viewpoints makes Om Shanti Babe the worthy winner of the 2011 Frances Lincoln Memorial Diverse Voices Award.

At the beginning, Cass is difficult to like with her self-centred brashness and insensitivity, although it soon becomes clear that this stems from low self-esteem and unhappiness – and it says much for Limon’s skills as a writer that even when her narrator is less than empathetic, this is a real roller-coaster ride of a story.  Cass’ honesty as the narrator and the thread of humor that runs through the whole book right from the opening page and often at her own expense, draw readers on even when Cass is at her most prickly.  By the end, Cass has transformed into a more caring and likeable individual.  As the various plotlines come together for a  satisfying climax, readers will have just enough breath left from this fast-paced page-turner to raise a cheer for Cass and her new friends.

Marjorie Coughlan
October 2012

Diverse Voices Deadline Drawing Near…

Wednesday, October 10th, 2012


The Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices Children’s Book Award is for a manuscript that celebrates cultural diversity in the widest possible sense, either in terms of its story or the ethnic and cultural origins of its author.

The prize of £1,500, plus a full editorial consultation with Janetta Otter-Barry at Frances Lincoln Children’s Books and a meeting with leading literary agent Caroline Sheldon, will be awarded to the best work of unpublished fiction for 8-to-12-year-olds by a writer, aged 18 years or over, who has not previously published a novel for children.

The writer may have contributed to an anthology of prose or poetry.

The work must be written in English and it must be a minimum of 15,000 words and a maximum of 35,000 words.

The closing date for all entries is 31st December 2012

For more details visit

or Email: diversevoicesATsevenstoriesDOTorgDOTuk

Poetry Friday: International Peace Day

Friday, September 21st, 2012

Today is Peace Day.  It’s also a day of  Global Ceasefire.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all the fighting stopped for this one day.  It’s certainly something to aim for, and beyond.

This week with my Cub Scout Pack in Kirkbymoorside, UK, we thought about Peace and what a global ceasefire might mean.  We made peace cranes, thanks to Stone Bridge Press’ wonderful A Thousand Cranes: Origami Projects for Peace and Happiness (2011), adapted from a book by Florence Temko (1921-2009); and then we held a short vigil by candle-light (one of our Challenges in our Diamond Jubilee Challenge was silence: hard but ultimately rewarding).

We shared Lao Tzu’s wise poem from 2,500 years ago:

If there is to be peace in the world,
There must be peace in the nations.
If there is to be peace in the nations,
There must be peace in the cities.
If there is to be peace in the cities,
There must be peace between neighbors.
If there is to be peace between neighbors,
There must be peace in the home.
If there is to be peace in the home,
There must be peace in the heart.

It is one of the prayers in the beautifully presented Let There be Peace: Prayers from Around the World, selected by Jeremy Brooks, illustrated by Jude Daly (Frances Lincoln, 2009).

People around the world will be pausing for a moment’s silence today at midday local time.  Let’s hope the guns stop firing too.

This week’s Poetry Friday host Renée LaTulippe has a bowl of Poetry Candy over at No Water River, so head on over…

Poetry Friday: Dashdondog Jamba and the Mongolian Mobile Library

Sunday, September 16th, 2012

It was a real thrill for me to meet not only Dashdondog Jamba at the IBBY Congress last month, having interviewed him last year, but also Anne Pellowski, who worked with him on the Libraries Unlimited edition of Mongolian Folktales.  Here’s a photo of us all:

Dashdondog was a member of a superb storytellers’ panel with Michael Harvey telling a tall tale in a mixture of Welsh and English and Sonia Nimr recounting hers first in English then in Arabic.  It was fascinating in both cases how much audience participation was possible, regardless of the language they were speaking, simply (and of course, not simple at all really) becasue they were such fine storytellers.

Dashdondog’s story-telling in Mongolian was accompanied by a slideshow that provided the necessary context and I loved his verse rendition of the work of the Mongolian Mobile Library that he founded in 1990 – the onomatopeia could be universally understood. You can watch part of it here. As well as his gift for storytelling, this part of Dashdondog’s presentation provided an indication of how committed the Mobile Children’s Library is in ensuring library books reach as many children as possible, regardless of the challenges of terrain, distance and weather conditions they encounter.

Do read Dashdondog’s article about the library here – and you can read some of his vibrant poems translated into English on his blog.

Some photographs from the IBBY Congress, London 2012

Monday, September 3rd, 2012


I’m still gathering my thoughts from the wonderful experience that was the IBBY Congress in London Thursday to Sunday 23-26 August.  Four days of inspirational speakers and meeting kindred spirits from all over the world.  I’ve now added a selection of photographs to our Flickr – you can see them here.  I haven’t quite finished tagging and describing yet, but I’m getting there… and here is a smaller selection for you to enjoy on the blog – again, I’ve numbered them so that I can come back and label them!


A London children’s theatre company Theatre Peckham helped the Opening Ceremony go with a swing with their delightful performance of an extract from the theatre adaptation of Kate DiCamillo’s The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.  Then fuelled with a piece of Wally’s delicious 25th birthday cake (but where was he?  Answer: everywhere, in the guise of the very game Imperial College staff!), we headed back to the auditorium for our first plenary session – and what a line up!  Three UK Children’s Laureates – the current reigning Julia Donaldson and two of her predeceesors, Michael Morpurgo and Anthony Browne.

Each spoke about what particular passions they had brought to their role as laureate: Michael  described how he and poet Ted Hughes had first come up with the idea, and how Hughes had been instrumental in making it all happen; Anthony played the ‘shape game’ and showed how it appears everywhere in his work and outside it; and Julia talked of the three areas close to her heart: enhancing children’s experience of reading through drama; keeping libraries open (a big issue in the UK); and promoting stories for and about deaf children.

Julia and her husband Malcolm, on guitar, then showcased some examples of what theatre can do to enhance literacy, from the chorus of a very fast Italian pasta song written while on holiday in Siena, Italy, to a virtuoso performance of The Gruffalo in French, German and (its most recent language) Scots.  In between, we were treated to the song that inspired Julia’s book A Squash and a Squeeze with audience participation… and I say treated, well, it was a real treat for me as I got to be the hen!  Thanks to Australian author Susanne Gervay (yes, that was one of my top thrills of IBBY, meeting Susanne in person…), you will shortly be able to see it on Flickr too – don’t laugh too much!!

Well, that was just the first few hours of the Congress – I will certainly be writing more about it over the coming weeks.  In the meantime, hello to all those PaperTigers friends I got to meet for the first time in real life – Shirin Adl, Candy Gourlay, Dashdondog Jamba; and to old friends and new.  I’ll now be dreaming of IBBY Mexico 2014…  In the meantime, head on over to Flickr and enjoy my photos – and much better ones on the official IBBY Congress 2012’s photostream.

Books at Bedtime: The Secret of Platform 13

Monday, June 4th, 2012

Those of you familiar with my Books at Bedtime posts know how much my daughter loves the work of Eva Ibbotson, so it is with some hesitation that I post on yet another book of hers — this time, The Secret of Platform 13 (illustrated by Sue Porter, Thorndike Press, 1994.)   We started this book a little while back after completing Ibbotson’s The Beasts of Clawstone Castle.  It’d be fair to say my daughter and I are on an Ibbotson bender right now.  It’s funny because my daughter has absolutely no interest in the Harry Potter books (unlike her older brother,) and yet she is very much a devoted fan of Ibbotson!

At any rate, The Secret of Platform 13, is about that other magical platform at Kings Cross Station in London where a ‘gump’ opens up once every nine years for nine days to allow denizens to come and go from the mysterious mist-laden place known as The Island.  The Island is governed by a kindly King and Queen and is inhabited by magical creatures like wizards, hags, and ogres in a literal island paradise.  The King and Queen have a baby and the child’s three nurses take it to the opening of the gump and in an unfortunate accident, the child is kidnapped by a spoilt rich woman in London who cannot have children and is spirited away from the nurses, who alas, return to the Island via the gump empty-handed.  Nine years later, at the next opening of the gump, a group of Islanders at behest of the royal couple go out to London to rescue the child.  A motley crew made up of an aging wizard, a fey, a one-eyed ogre and a young hag — the group has their work cut out for them.  The child has grown up to be a rather nasty spoiled piece of business himself — much like his mother — and it will take a lot of convincing to get this child returned to his parents.

My daughter and I have been reading this book fairly regularly in the evenings.  Once, when I finished a chapter with a cliffhanger sort-of-ending, she couldn’t help but read ahead on her own after I’d left the room to see what happens next.  While I still very much enjoy the experience of reading aloud to my daughter, I was pleased to hear that she was so enchanted by the book and its engaging plot that she’d gone and read ahead for herself!  Have you had that experience reading to your child at bedtime?  It somehow makes the reading experience all that more rewarding as a parent!

Books at Bedtime: What Daddy Reads

Monday, April 23rd, 2012

Who does the reading to your child at night?  Mommy or Daddy?  And what books do they choose to read?  In our household, it’s mainly me who does the night time reading ritual with my daughter, but on occasion my husband has done the bedtime reading.  Of course, he picks different books than me and for today’s post, I’m featuring a book he’s been working on steadily with my daughter titled To Kill a Queen: An Elizabethan Girl’s Diary 1583-1586 by Valerie Wilding (Scholastic Canada, 2005)  This book is one in a series of Scholastic titles — the My Story collection — of girls living through historical events like the Great Plague, the Blitz, and the Irish Famine.

To Kill a Queen features an Elizabethan girl named Catherine Anne Lumsden, the 12 year old daughter of a former lady-in-waiting on Queen Elizabeth the I, Lady Matilda Lumsden and Sir Nicholas Lumsden, a secret agent in the service of the Queen.  With such a family so close to the Queen, it’s not surprising that they become embroiled in the intrigues of the court of the day, including a plot to kill the Queen.  So what happens to our dear diarist, Catherine?  Well, I don’t know since I’m not the one reading the book to her!  Since my husband is an English professor, specializing in the literature close to the period covering this book, I could see why he selected this title for his choice of a bedtime read.  How does my daughter like the book?  I assume she likes it well enough, but by now, she is quite used to her parents, particularly her mother, foisting interesting and unusual reads on her!  This doesn’t prevent her from voicing her opinions on the matter.  She came home one day wanting us to read the popular The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins to her and so when Daddy went shopping recently, he picked up a copy for her to read to her at night.

Who does the bedtime reading in your household?  And what books do you or your spouse choose to read?