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…

PaperTigers 10th Anniversary – My Top 10 Multicultural Ghost Stories

Wednesday, October 31st, 2012

I thought I’d counted very carefully, honest guv’nor, but somehow one extra ghost snuck in there – I’m not sure which one – and I’ve ended up with a ‘Reader’s 10′. (If you’re not sure what a Reader’s 10 is, you’ll need to look at Janet Wong’s Top 10: Multicultural Poetry Picks (2002-2012)). So here’s a list of my favorite ghost encounters – they cover a range of age-groups and genres. Some of the ghosts are friendly, some make you ponder, and some are just plain terrifying…

~ The Young Inferno by John Agard, illustrated by Satoshi Kitamura – I’ve blogged about this modern take on Dante’s Inferno for a teen audience here and here.  It sends shivers down my spine every time I read it.

~ Takeshita Demons by Cristy Burne – Miku has just moved from Japan to the UK and it soon becomes clear that several yokai demons have followed her there.  When her little brother is kidnapped, her empty, snow-bound secondary school unexpectedly becomes a battle-ground… this will have you on the edge of your seat!

~ Ship of Souls by Zetta Elliott – I read this earlier this year on a very choppy ferry crossing and was so riveted that I remained oblivious to the scene of sea-sick desolation around me – yes, I loved it.  Read my review here.

~ Ghosts in the House by Kazuno Kohara – it was love at first sight here with both the illustrations and the sweet story of a witch and her cat who move into a new house that’s full of ghosts.  Imagine putting ghosts through the washer and hanging them up as curtains!

~ Hannah’s Winter by Kierin Meehan – Hannah meets more than she bargained for when she goes to stay with Japanese family friends for the winter – and readers might just have to sleep with the light on after being carried along through the pages into the small wee hours!

~ Just In Case by Yuyi Morales – in this gorgeous sequel to the equally funny and delightful Just A Minute, the ghost of Zelmiro “helps” Señor Calavera to find twenty-two (Spanish Alphabet) presents for Grandma Beetle’s birthday – and tricks him into giving her what she wants most…

~ Requiem for a Beast by Matt Ottley – there are many ghosts in this tour de force combining spoken and written text, graphic narrative, and music that blends Australian Aboriginal song and movements from the Latin Requiem: both in the lost memories of the stolen generation, and at the end of a young man’s physical and psychological journeys to come to terms with his family’s past.

~ Home of the Brave by Allen Say – a man’s kayaking excursion suddenly brings him into a bewildering, dreamlike encounter with the ghosts of Japanese-American children incarcerated during the Second World War, and jolts him into insight of his own family history.

~ The Barefoot Book of Giants, Ghosts and Goblins retold by John Matthews, illustrated by Giovanni Manna – as might be expected from a Barefoot anthology, this is a beautifully presented and the nine stories from all over the world make great read-alouds. Most notable among the ghosts is the love-sick Cheyenne “Ghost with Two Faces”.

~ The Secret Keepers by Paul Yee – I have to admit, I had real difficulty deciding which one of Paul Yee’s ghost stories to choose for this list… They are all compelling books that are impossible to put down so I’ve gone for The Secret Keepers for purely personal reasons because I was there at the launch and heard Paul reciting the opening.

~ The Ghost Fox by Laurence Yep – a small boy has to use his wits to save his mother from the evil Ghost Fox intent on stealing her soul.  Vivid descriptions and attention to detail; plkenty of tension and some humor too.  Favorite quote: (Fox speaking to servant) “Fool, you don’t celebrate a great victory with turnips.”

And P.S. If you haven’t yet seen our fabulous 10th Anniversary Giveaway, announced yesterday, go here right now!

 

Poetry Friday: The Young Inferno by John Agard, illustrated by Satoshi Kitamura

Friday, July 20th, 2012

Next week the UK organisation, the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education will announce this year’s winner of their CLPE Poetry Award.  One of the books on the shortlist is Goldilocks on CCTV by John Agard, illustrated by Satoshi Kitamura (Frances Lincoln, 2011) – I haven’t actually seen it yet, but I’m working on it, since they have already shown themselves to be a first-class creative partnership.  In fact, their previous collaboration, The Young Inferno won the CLPE Poetry Award in 2009.  I blogged about The Young Inferno a couple of years ago (and I refer you to that post for a longer overview) but it’s just come out in paperback, which gives me the perfect excuse to revisit it!

It’s Agard’s Canto 3 that resonates most with me at the moment – as the “Hoodie Hero” steps through the door of the Gate Cinema aka the entrance to Hell, into the unknown – wanting to go forward, but dreading what he is about to discover:

THROUGH ME INTO THE CITY OF TEARS.
A LOVING ARCHITECT MADE ME.
ABANDON HOPE ALL WHO ENTER HERE.

When I saw these words above a gate
I felt a sad and weird sensation.
‘Can we turn back?’ I said. ‘Is it too late?’

My teacher [Aesop] smiled and said, ‘This is Hell, my son.
What do you expect? A red carpet
and bunches of flowers that say Welcome?’

Then holding my hand, he whispered to me,
‘Nothing is more fearsome than your fear.
Just think of Hell as a scary movie.’

And with these words of encouragement
he led me down starless winding stairs.
I could hear voices coming from a basement.

Tantalising?  I hope so.  Just as would have been the case for Dante’s contemporary audience, this 21st-century update is filled with a blend of characters and stories (many from Aesop’s Fables) that will be both well-known and unfamiliar to today’s young readers.  Agard’s powerful, energetic verse and Satoshi Kitamura’s extraordinarily powerful illustrations together pack a rare punch. (Do take a look at our PaperTigers Gallery featuring some of Satoshi’s wonderful artwork) Now to seek out Goldilocks on CCTV

This week’s Poetry Friday is hosted by Tara at A Teaching Life, where the title of her post seems to fit perfectly with the style of The Young Inferno!  Head on over.

Cybils Nominations

Wednesday, October 14th, 2009

Phew, just made it! Where have the last two weeks disappeared to? Anyway, I’ve made my nominations for the Cybils - and if you haven’t yet, you have until 11.59 p.m. tomorrow…

So here’s my list:

Fiction Picture Books:

I nominated Naomi’s Tree by Joy Kogawa

… on my list were also Erika-San by Allen Say (Houghton Mifflin, 2009) – nominated by Kara of Not Just for Kids;
and Cora Cooks Pancit by Dorina K. Lazo Gilmore, illustrated by Kristi Valiant (Shen’s Books, 2009) – nominated by Renee of Shen’s Blog;

…and I especially want to look out:
First Come the Zebra by Lynne Barasch (Lee & Low, 2009) – nominated by Hannah from the Lee & Low Blog
Hook by Ed Young (Roaring Book Press, 2009) – nominated by Susannah of Raab Associates
My African Bedtime Rhymes by Brettell Hone (Shamwari Publishing, 2009) – nominated by Ginger Nielson;
Crow Call by Lois Lowry – nominated by Kristine at The Best Book I Haven’t Read
My Abuelita by Tony Johnston, illustrated by Yuyi Morales (Harcourt Children’s Books, 2009) – nominated by Lynn E. Hazen
…and the list continues!

Middle Grade Fiction:

I nominated Wanting Mor by Rukhsana Khan (Groundwood, 2009)

…and must seek out Brushing Mom’s Hair by Andrea Cheng (Wordsong, 2009) – nominated by Linda at Swell Books
and Journey of Dreams by Marge Pellegrino (Frances Lincoln, 2009) – nominated by Janni… and more!

Non-fiction/Information Picture Books:

I nominated My Japan by Etsuko Watanabe

…and great to see already nominated:
Balarama: A Royal Elephant by Ted and Betsy Lewin (Lee and Low, 2009) – nominated by Miri at Wands and Worlds;
Listen to the Wind: The Story of Dr. Greg and Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and Susan Roth, (Dial, 2009) – nominated by Maggi at Mama Librarian;
Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story by Paula Yoo (Lee & Low, 2009) – nominated by Jama at Jama Rattigan’s Alphabet Soup.

I want to read:
The East-West House: Noguchi’s Childhood in Japan by Christy Hale (Lee & Low, 2009);
The Grand Mosque of Paris: A Story of How Muslims Rescued Jews During the Holocaust by Karen Gray Ruelle and Deborah Durland Desaix (Holiday House, 2009);
Tarra & Bella: The Elephant and Dog Who Became Best Friends by Carol Buckley (Putnam Juvenile, 2009) – nominated by Elaine Magliaro at Wild Rose Reader;
Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan by Jeanette Winter – nominated by Sherry at Semicolon;
Cycle of Rice, Cycle of Life: A Story of Sustainable Farming by Jan Reynolds (Lee & Low, 2009).

Non-Fiction – middle/teen:

I nominated Let There Be Peace: Prayers from Around the World by Jeremy Brooks, illustrated by Jude Daly (Frances Lincoln, 2009)

…already nominated: After Gandhi: One Hundred Years of Nonviolent Resistance by Anne Sibley O’Brien and Perry Edmond O’Brien (Charlesbridge, 2009) – I’m in the process of writing a review for this superb book and will add a link soon…
and Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Journey to Change the World… One Child at a Time (The Young Reader’s Edition) by Greg Mortenson (Puffin Young Readers, 2009).

Grace Lin’s Where the Mountain Meets the Moon (Little, Brown and Company, 2009) has been nominated in the Fantasy/Science Fiction section by Emily Reads; and John Agard’s The Young Inferno would have been my poetry nomination but Sherry got there first!

I’ve realised that I have read very little newly-published YA fiction this year so I haven’t made a nomination there either – but it’s good to see Mitali Perkins’ Secret Keeper in there, nominated by Sarah at Archimedes Forgets (what a wonderful name for a blog!); and I do have a copy of Shine, Coconut Moon by Neesha Meminger (Margaret K. McElderry, 2009) in my to-be-read pile (nominated by R. J. Anderson)…

So it looks like I’m going to be busy enough – I can’t imagine how the judges are going to manage to read all the nominees. And after tomorrow, we’ll be waiting with baited breath to find out the shortlists, published on 1st January…

Poetry Friday: The Young Inferno

Friday, October 9th, 2009

Having immersed myself in Dante at university, and while living in Italy after that, I was intrigued by the notion of John Agard‘s The Young Inferno (Frances Lincoln, 2008)… How could it be possible to bring a fourteenth century work of poetry, no matter how seminal, to a young, English-speaking audience, when most of them would never have heard of him? Well, Agard has managed to bring this up-to-date parallel to Dante’s Hell very much alive and, judging by Little Brother’s reaction, they will then want to know about the “Old Inferno” too. The poem is ambitious, exciting and relevant – an exhilarating journey!

There are thirteen cantos of varying lengths, divided into tercets plus a single, climactic line at the end. The young narrator’s guide is Aesop, who leads him through the circles of hell, giving introduction and explanations, and telling a couple of his own fables along the way. Agard’s version of Hell contains a mix of modern and ancient inhabitants – some of whom may be a little surprising at first, like Einstein. And I love the ending, where the boy emerges through the floor of a library, of all places, to come face to face with his Beatrice…

Satoshi Kitamura‘s black and white illustrations are, as ever, superb – atmospheric, grotesque, witty – they complement Agard’s verse perfectly. My boys have been intrigued and a bit scared by the whole book and Little Brother (definitely put off Mammon!) has learned a lot about urban culture… we were at our Town Feast last week-end and he stood outside the door announcing that he was going to be a bouncer! It’s no surprise that The Young Inferno won this year’s UK-based Centre for Literacy in Primary Education Poetry Award; or that it is is being adapted for the stage (I’ll be watching its progress with interest…).

Here’s a taster from the ninth and final circle of hell:

‘…History knows me as Attila the Hun
Who ravaged countless cities in the Balkans.
But deep down, I’m still a family man…’

‘That’s enough,’ my teacher said to Attila.
‘Don’t burden the boy with your excuses.
I know we can’t all be Nelson Mandela.

But whatever your race, your shape or your -ism,
I’ve got news for warmongers and tyrants:
Hell’s Ninth Circle will be your five-star prison.”

This week’s Poetry Friday is hosted by Anastasia Suen over at Picture Book of the Day