Tuesday, June 27, 2017

SMGS Patron of Reading: 1 year on!

The school term is coming to a close and with it my year as Patron of Reading for SMGS National School in Dublin 8.
It's been absolutely brilliant and I'm very grateful for the school who essentially said yes to every crazy bookish idea I threw at them, from Writing Club after schools to Christmas competitions and Baby Book Clubs.
Here's a wee video showing all the hard work done and all the great times had.
(You may need to activate Flash for this to work!)

video


Thanks all and have a brilliant summer!

Monday, June 26, 2017

The Wilds of Kildare

Last week was another busy week, as I was invited to take part in the Children's Books Festival organised by the Kildare Libraries: Newbridge, Athy, Kildare Town, Maynooth, Leixlip, Naas, Celbridge... the county holds no secrets for me now.
I met with hordes of enthusiastic Senior Infants, 1st and 2nd class, plus, once, an entire school where children aged 6-12 all had some excellent questions about the writer's job and the intricacies of Disaster David. They were not alone in this. Everywhere I went, the kids were full of chat and ideas and comments, in the best possible way.


We did a lot of predictions and wondered if people could break their legs in a book for children (they can). We looked at how a book was made and explored the role of the illustrator, the writer and the printer (sorry editors and publishers, you were only briefly mentioned!). We talked about giants and about how we might live if we suddenly became one: would we play football with the moon or basketball with humans? eat our breakfast out of a bathtub? use lots of planes as a jetpack to go about the world? wear trees or houses for clothes?
There were some brilliant suggestions there and some terrific drawing of what life might be like if we had a Gigantor (a gun for making everything giant-sized), if our entire family could fit in the palm of our hand, if we could (literally) break into banks and so on. Some of our giants were too big to fit on the page, one of them (stroke of genius!) even had her head on the other side of the paper!

A week before the end of the school year, one might have worried about a certain lack of focus or too much excitement (in one school they still had the bouncy castle from Active Week up and running, an actual BOUNCY CASTLE!). There would have been no need: those kids were so on the ball and into it, and SO well behaved. Special mention of the school I met in Athy who came into the library, sat down on the mats and just listened without anybody telling them to do any of these things. And also a special shout out to the ladies of Presentation Girls in Maynooth, all 60 of them, who were awesome.
To everyone, thank you so much! It was a pleasure meeting you and sharing stories with you (some young writers in Celbridge actually brought in their own productions!). Have a brilliant summer!


Friday, March 31, 2017

International Children's Book Day 2017

I was in Meath recently for International Children's Book Day. ICBD is celebrated on or around April 2, which is the birthday of Hans Christian Andersen and it's the occasion to celebrate international children's books and stories. IBBY (the International Board on Books for Young People) is the organisation behind it, and it crops up the world over at the initiative of the local branches of IBBY (IBBY Ireland in our case), libraries, schools or arts centres.
Thus I went off with the lovely plan to present a book published in English, relating the story of an Armenian folklore hero and written by a French author. It doesn't get much more international than Disaster David!
Now, as with all lovely plans, some adjustments (ie big improv) had to be made.
(1) I had to go to Meath twice that morning, courtesy of the bus strike: the first time I nearly went on the bus (there was no bus); the second time, I rushed home from Busarás and drove.
(2) the first group I met in Navan expected to hear about Mad Cap. As they hadn't had a chance to read the book yet, there was no disappointment, it just meant that the Q&A at the end was a bit disconnected from the rest of the session.
No matter, we had fun thinking giant thoughts and wondering how different the world would be if we woke up as huge versions of ourselves. The brainstorming was lively and surprising, and the kids' drawing skills proved most impressive.
I was delighted to restore one participant's faith in grown-ups when I turned out to be the first adult she had ever met who knew about manga.
Onwards and forwards, I took to the road again, to Trim this time, where Surprise Number (3) awaited me: 25 ladies from 5th Class instead of the 3rd Class we were expecting. I had a feeling a picturebook (even such a Magnificent and Sophisticated one as Disaster David) wasn't going to work for this audience, so I went into Mad Cap gear and we had a hoot of a session with plenty of shouting and imagining and drawing (kids can seriously draw in Meath!) and writing about super-heroes and equally-super-villains. The Q&A this time strayed into Book Doctor territory which was also great fun. (If you missed my book recommendations, I'm listing them again below, ladies).
So a great day all in all, and a great reassurance that, yes, I can improvise if needs must!
Plus, I got to meet a young song writer who's in with a chance to write the song for the Irish contestant in the Junior Eurovision. How cool is that?
Thanks to everyone for having me and looking after me!


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Book recommendations:
Who Let the Gods Out by Maz Evans: for fans of Greek mythology and running around the Underworld
The Thin Executioner by Darren Shan: a stand-alone novel with plenty of action and gore; his best book in my humble opinion
The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin: a sad-and-funny story for fans of Jacqueline Wilson

That's it, as far as I can remember!
For those who wanted to know more about Book Doctors and Book Clinics, it's over here: http://childrensbooksireland.ie/book-clinics/ and here for the upcoming dates: http://childrensbooksireland.ie/events/



Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Writing, rewriting, giants and babies

Chris Haughton's starry night in Goodnight Everyone gets the Baby Bookclub treatment
I've been busy with the Patron of Reading thing lately and it has been a hoot. The baby book club is proving a riot every time and it seems that everyone involved is really enjoying it: babas, toddlers and grown-ups. It is very rewarding to see people coming back and asking for more; even more rewarding to see the little ones rush over to the mats and wait excitedly for the story to begin. And what to say about the preschoolers who bring in their favourite books to show the rest of the group (unprompted) or the stories of terrible-twos who had no time for story-time and who now will grab their grown-up and demand a book be read to them? All of these milestones in the life of a young reader I am totally claiming as a benefit of Baby Book Club. Totally and totally shamelessly. Ahem...
First Class are giants today
I've also been busy trying out new material on my very willing guinea pigs (sorry, kids): doing a poetry workshop with Second Class (of all things!) and, especially, bringing out Disaster David to various school visits.
He has proved a very likeable hero and we've had great fun reading about his antics and creating some new ones for him.
An interesting aspect of this for me has been rewriting the text for a younger audience (of infants classes). A simplified version, with a bit less poetic imagery but a stronger purpose. Which has me wondering why I didn't write it like this in the first place? Writing simply has always been an issue for me; that is one of the reasons I started writing in English, thinking I wouldn't be able to indulge in fancy language as much in a foreign tongue. It worked for Beckett, but I'm not sure it has for me! (The other reason for writing in English was to stop sneaking in heaps of internal rhyming as I do in French; this has been a lot more successful as I can't seem to rhyme in English.)
After-school writing club has been good fun too, with highs and lows, as in everything. It always amazes me how much talent there is going round and how different the creative sensibilities.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Disaster David has landed!

He's here! In the flesh and paper and ink, my last title of 2016, Disaster David has made its way to Dublin from distant Armenia where Zangak Publishing did a fine job with my words and Julie Grugeaux/de Terssac's stunning illustrations.
This is a story very freely inspired by a traditional Armenian tale about David, a young disaster-prone giant.
It involves sheep, leopards and chamber pots, among other things, and is a light-hearted musing on how one's failings can be turned to an advantage.
The book is published in both English and Armenian (two separate editions) and can be purchased in all good bookshops in Armenia as well as online here or there. There will be more widespread distribution eventually, so watch this space for updates!