Poetry Friday: Meeting up with Debjani Chatterjee

Friday, February 22nd, 2013

Let's Celebrate! Festival Poems from Around the World. edited by Debjani Chatterjee and Brian D'Arcy (Frances Lincoln, 2011)I was in Sheffield (UK) yesterday and met up with Debjani Chatterjee and her husband, fellow-poet Brian D’Arcy, which was definitely something to celebrate – so for today’s Poetry Friday, I turn to the recent book they edited together, Let’s Celebrate! Festival Poems from Around the World, imaginatively illustrated by Shirin Adl (Frances Lincoln, 2011). And since the joyous Jewish festival of Purim falls this weekend, here’s the beginning of “Three Loud Cheers for Esther: A Poem for Purim” written by Debjani and Brian:

Listen to the tale of Esther:
The story of a savvy queen
Who became her people’s saviour.
Let’s hear: ‘three loud cheers for Esther!

Stamp your feet and shake your gregger…’

The whole poem evokes a traditional Purim spiel, reflected also in Shirin’s illustration in the book, which shows a young audience enjoying a puppet play, greggers and hamentaschen in hand, for, as we learn in the backmatter information About the Festivals, “Home-made rattles called greggers are shaken to drown out Hamen’s name whenever it is mentioned.  Poppy-seed cakes called hamentaschen or ‘Haman’s ears’ are eaten.”

Let’s Celebrate! is a wonderful gathering of poems, bringing together a whole world of festivals, so I was delighted to hear that a second anthology, this time about children playing around the world, is nearing completion. I’ll definitely be keeping my eye open for it and I’ll keep you posted!

It was lovely to catch up with Debjani and to meet Brian – thank you, both.

Poet Debjani Chatterjee and Marjorie Coughlan (PaperTigers) in SheffieldPaperTigers

Debjani shared with me some of the beautiful poster poems she had created as part of a community mother-daughter poetry project with Roshni Sheffield Asian Women’s Resource Centre. She is also very  involved in running a local cancer support group called The Healing Word, and you can read some of her powerful poetry about her own cancer journey in her Dare to Dream collection, and in this issue of Poetry Express, the journal of Survivors’ Poetry, which promotes poetry by survivors of mental distress (Debjani is its patron).  Debjani is also a noted translator of poetry – do read these “Eight Poems by Five Bengali Poets” and her prize-winning translation of some of Bangladesh’s national poet Kazi Nazrul Islam’s work.  You can find out more about Debjani and her many books of poetry and children’s stories on her website.

This week’s Poetry Friday is hosted by Sheri Doyle – head on over… And Happy Purim!

Week-end Book Review: Going to Mecca by Na’ima B. Robert and Valentina Cavallinni

Saturday, January 5th, 2013

Reviewed by Aline Pereira:

Na’ima B. Robert, illustrated by Valentina Cavallinni,
Going to Mecca
Frances Lincoln, 2012.

Ages: 5+

Going to Mecca opens with the image of a family getting ready for a trip to Saudi Arabia, where they will be performing the Hajj, the holy pilgrimage to Mecca that is considered one of the pillars of the Islamic faith. We see the youngest of the three children waving goodbye to his parents and siblings. Still a baby, and not yet ready for the journey his family is about to embark on, he is staying with grandma…

Read the full review

Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices Children’s Book Award

Sunday, May 3rd, 2009

The first winner of the ground-breaking new Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices Children’s Book Award is Cristy Burne for her manuscript Takeshita Demons, “a fast-paced adventure story” about a Japanese schoolgirl in the UK who confronts the demons that have followed her family from Japan. She wins £1,500 and the option of having her novel published by Frances Lincoln Limited. Christy, who has Australian/ New Zealand dual nationality, currently lives in the UK. As well as studying Japanese at school, she has lived and worked in Japan, which is when she first heard about the yokai. Speaking about these supernatural spirits in an interview with Geraldine Brennan, one of the Award’s judges, Christy explained:

“There are dozens of supernatural yokai that most Japanese people will be familiar with. They appear over and over again in all kinds of stories. Some are benign, some are nasty and some you’re just not quite sure. The demons that Miku [the book’s young heroine] has to deal with include the nukekubi, a kind of child-eating flying-head demon, and the noppera-bo, a faceless demon that can take on other personae.

Most Western children don’t know about these yokai in the way that they know about vampires and werewolves, but just as vampires fear garlic, the demons often have an Achilles heel or fatal flaw. The nukekubi, for example, must leave its body somewhere while its hungry head flies around, and you can destroy the head by destroying the body. I chose the demons I thought would have the most potential for an adventure story, but there are plenty more for future stories. I like to write about children, especially strong girls, having great adventures.”

Created in memory of publisher Frances Lincoln, who died in 2001, the award was co-founded by Frances Lincoln Publishers and Seven Stories, the Centre for Children’s Books in Newcastle in the UK. The Award was announced on Thursday at Seven Stories, which was a magical and perfectly fitting place to host the evening and I will be devoting a separate post to it next week. This is a photo of Hannah Green, archivist at Seven Stories, with a display of books and manuscripts from the collection.

In her introduction to this inaugural presentation of the Award, Kate Edwards, Chief Executive of Seven Stories, talked about the importance of highlighting global communication in a way that will promote understanding; and of finding the right voices to communicate with the 8-12 age group. She made a very striking point about considering books as cultural mirrors – sometimes they offer a true reflection of their contemporary society; sometimes they distort or play with that reflection.

John Nicoll, Managing Director of Frances Lincoln Limited, then spoke as Frances’ husband of his quest to establish the right kind of project in her memory: and this, he felt, was exactly what she would have supported, in its promotion both of new talent and of good stories to provide a bridge for people who find the unknown challenging.

In all, there were fifty entries, mostly from the UK but also from Australia, Canada, Germany, India, New Zealand, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland and the US, from writers from a wide range of ethnic backgrounds. These were whittled down by Seven Stories to a shortlist of ten and the panel of four judges selected the final four (who were all presented with a copy of the superb We Are All Born Free):

Winner: Takeshita Demons by Cristy Burne;
Highly Commended: The Gift by Gemma Birss;
Commended: The Ever-changing Mum by Ruth Patterson;
Special Mention: The Queen of Sheba’s Feet by Clare Reddaway.

The judges treated us to an outline of each of these books – and Cristy then read us a very exciting extract from Takeshita Demons, seated in Seven Stories’ glorious Storyteller’s throne. We will now have to be patient and wait for the book to go through the practical publishing process before we’ll be able to read the rest of it. And it was tantalising too to hear about the other three novels and not be able to run and pick them up afterwards!

At the beginning of this post I described the award as ground-breaking: this is because it seeks both to celebrate diversity and to foster new talent. Entries must be unpublished manuscripts aimed at 8-12 year olds from writers who have not previously published a novel for children (although they may have contributed to an anthology of prose or poetry). The Award’s stated purpose is fourfold:

To take positive steps to increase the representation of people writing from or about different cultural perspectives whose work is published in Britain today;
To promote new writing for children, especially by or about people whose culture and voice is currently under-represented;
To recognise that as children’s books shape our earliest perceptions of the world and its cultures, promoting writing that represents diversity will contribute to social and cultural tolerance;
To support the process of writing rather than, as with the majority of prizes, promoting the publication.

The closing date for entries for the 2010 Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices Children’s Book Award is 26 February 2010.

You can read more about the Award on both Seven Stories’ and Frances Lincoln’s websites, including how to enter

The Willesden Bookshop

Saturday, April 11th, 2009

I have been a frequent visitor to the Willesden Bookshop’s website over the years. It’s a veritable honey-pot for anyone looking for “Children’s Books from Around the World”: they stock many books it is difficult to find elsewhere in the UK. On our last trip to London we decided to go to the actual bookshop, where we were overly tempted by the array of books, and met Steve Adams, the owner.

As its name suggests, the bookshop is situated in Willesden, in North West London, which is one of the most ethnically diverse boroughs in London with upward of 30 languages spoken in its schools. Steve talked about rising to the challenge of finding books that reflect this diversity of culture in modern Britain. As far as publishing goes in the UK, “There’s a great time lag between recognising that diversity and publishers coming out with appropriate books” – with some notable exceptions, namely Frances Lincoln, Tamarind Books and some books from a few of the big publishers like Penguin. There’s an increase in books reflecting contemporary African heritage but it is still difficult to find Asian children in a normal British setting. There are some lovely books like My Mother’s Sari but they do not often step outside the stereotypical view. However, looking out into the wider world, books are starting to appear which show modern Indian cities – and the same with Africa: not just a focus on rural life in these countries but also books showing the modern urban areas. (more…)

PaperTigers Book of the Month: We Are All Born Free

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008

Over on the main PaperTigers website we have just posted our new Book of the Month, following our current theme of War and Peace in children’s books. The recently published We Are All Born Free: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Pictures (Frances Lincoln, 2008, in association with Amnesty International) couldn’t be a more apt choice and I can’t resist sharing with you this wonderful image of its book cover in 25 of the 30 languages it has so far been translated into! It is a superb book, in which, as I said in my review (you can read the whole thing here),

Amnesty International has simplified the language of all 30 articles to make them accessible to young people; and a glittering array of internationally renowned illustrators has been brought together to convey a powerful visual interpretation of the text…

Achockablog gives a complete list of the illustrators here, as well as photos of some of them with their illustrations.

There’s also a short film based on five of the illustrations – great school assembly material.