LET'S GET SILLY
RIDING A DONKEY A DONKEY BACKWARDS – my laugh-out-loud collection of Mulla Nasruddin stories written with Khayaal Theatre – has been chosen by The Reading Agency for this year’s Summer Reading Challenge book list. And we’re pleased to be joining Jacqueline Wilson, Cressida Cowell, Philip Ardagh and Joseph Coelho as part of the SILLY SQUAD Summer Reading Challenge 2020.
This ever-popular library-based reading challenge will be launching on 5th June 2020, in an all-new digital format due to Covid-19 and the ongoing social distancing measures in schools and public libraries.
And very sensibly, given the times we’re in, they’re giving it a silly theme!
Expect lots of reading fun along the course of the SILLY SQUAD programme. It will run from June until September and feature readings, jokes, poems, creative challenges, family activities and draw-a-longs from the authors and illustrators involved.
Libraries around the country will continue to run the Summer Reading Challenge, delivering it via virtual services and e-lending platforms, and adapting their delivery if social distancing measures develop and change.
So head here from 5 June 2020, to join in the seriously silly fun:
MEET THE AUTHOR
I enjoyed a recent chat with Elephant Books about THE SNOWBEAR.
You can find out more about writing that book, my collaborations with Claire Alexander & my thoughts on the biggest challenges facing parents, given the current relationship between kids & reading. Their MEET THE AUTHOR feature is here:
WHY I WASN'T IN DUBAI
Every February Dubai hosts The Emirates Airline Literature Festival. Some authors accept the invitation to attend. But some do not.
I was invited to attend and, having researched issues around the festival and talked with fellow authors, I decided not to go.
There are many grievances about the way that the United Arab Emirates is governed. The country has a very well-documented record of human rights violations. It relies on a migrant underclass who are treated in ways reminiscent of apartheid. It promotes a culture of wasteful overconsumption that our world can ill-afford.
Although holding a literature festival may appear
to swim against these currents, the fact is that the Emirates Festival of
Literature’s patron is Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Prime Minister of
the U.A.E and ruler of the Emirate of Dubai. So the event gives a sheen of
respectability to an oppressive regime.
My choice would always be to stay part of the conversation rather than close the door. I had hoped to visit the festival in this spirit, and take part in conversations and meetings with contacts in the wider Dubai community. But authors who have attended the festival tell me it’s very difficult to do anything meaningful outside the ‘five-star bubble’ where the festival is held. And this was confirmed when the festival told me they have ‘very stringent rules’ and I would not be able to do any paid or free private events or speak at meetings not organised by the festival itself.
I would have enjoyed the chance to connect with children and families in Dubai and to be a part of feeding their love of reading.
The choice not to go is entirely mine, and I respect the right of other authors to consider the issues and act differently. Freedom of expression lies at the heart of this matter.
As fellow children’s author Laurence Anholt has rightly
“The Dubai Government cannot have it both ways – if they want to encourage
literature and the arts, then they must allow unrestricted debate and freedom
of speech to all.”
And this is the voice of Ahmed Mansoor, human
rights defender imprisoned in the U.A.E since March 2017:
“The root cause of so much of the violence in the region is despair. Human rights are being violated on a daily basis and nobody in the outside world seems to care.”
IT'S SCARY ON THE ISLE OF WIGHT...
I’ve just had a great weekend at the Isle of Wight Literary Festival, doing events around my book I WANT TO BE IN A SCARY STORY! Thanks for having me and an extra special thank you to the children who came up with this spooky poem:
SCARY STORY POEM
Our scary story poem
has a spooky house in it.
It’s crooked and pointy.
Our scary story poem
has wolves in it.
They’re big and vicious.
They’re frightening and deafening.
Our scary story poem
has a witch in it.
She’s got a green face.
She’s got a spiky cat.
So let’s leave them in the poem
and go for lunch.
And have a ham and cheese sandwich.
by children at the Isle of Wight Literary Festival 2018, working with Sean Taylor
TIPS ON WRITING FOR CHILDREN
A student dropped me a line asking for my top tips on writing for children.
I had a fifteen minute train journey to write a message back. And these are the bits of advice that came off the top of my head. Hoping they may be useful to others….
Top priority…be very clear what age children you are writing for. 2-4’s? 4-6’s? 6-8’s? 8-11’s? They are all very different and read different sorts of stories.
Come up with a character that children of the age you are writing for will identify with or…better still…fall head over heals in love with.
Open with a hook that will get them on board.
Make it a ‘ page-turning’ story to keep them involved.
Put in some humour.
Also some emotion.
Reach some sort of satisfying resolution…a surprise…an uplift…a piece of magic.
LONG LIVE HARBINGER SCHOOL LIBRARY
A BBC investigation, last year, came up with this shocking statistic: 343 British public libraries closed between 2010 and 2016. So what a delight to be invited to open a new library last week, at Harbinger Primary, on the Isle of Dogs.
In the ship-launching tradition of that corner of east London, it felt as if we should be launching the new library by smashing a bottle of champagne on the door. But the Head Teacher wouldn’t let me.
So I did my best to launch the new space by reading a poem written for the library.
All the children and staff at the school joined in by counting 3…2…1!
Then the ribbon was cut…
LONG LIVE HARBINGER SCHOOL LIBRARY AND ALL WHO READ IN HER!
Here’s the poem I read:
A BLESSING FOR A LIBRARY
Let this be a place where reading flows.
Let this be a place where imagination grows.
Let this be a place where facts are discovered –
a calm place, in busy times, where clear thoughts are recovered.
Let this be a place that is safe and warm.
Let this be a place where fresh dreams are born.
Let there be good stories here that make your heart go faster,
poems, riddles and comedies to make you burst with laughter.
Let this be a place of cliffhangers and mysteries.
Let this be a place for sciences and histories.
Let this be a place where you come to feel at home.
Let this be a place where learning seeds are sown.
Let this be a special place for the head and the heart.
Let this be a place from which journeys start.
Sean Taylor, May 2017
PORTSMOUTH...A CITY OF YOUNG READERS
Many thanks to Portsmouth Schools Library Service for inviting me down this week. I was delighted to spend time with the quick-thinking children and dedicated teachers at Penhale and Court Lane infant schools. And it warms an author’s heart to visit a city which puts energy all year round into getting children excited about books.
Here are some poems that the children came up with…
MY PRECIOUS THINGS
My dark white bunny-teddy.
I will always keep him safe.
My beautiful family.
I will always keep them safe.
My fantastic friends.
I will always keep them safe.
My fluffy hamster, Harry.
I will always keep him safe.
My secret diary.
I will always keep it safe.
My special gold necklace from my nan.
I will always keep it safe.
by Year 2 children at Penhale Infant School, working with Sean Taylor.
THE LION, THE TIGER AND THE GIRAFFE
An angry lion!
An angry lion!
She’s got a fluffy mane.
She’s hunting for food.
An angry lion is the angriest thing in the world!
A naughty tiger!
A naughty tiger!
A naughty tiger is the naughtiest thing in the world!
A happy giraffe.
A happy giraffe.
A happy giraffe is the happiest thing in the world!
by Year 1 children at Penhale Infant School, working with Sean Taylor.
I JUST DON'T KNOW WHAT TO WRITE
Hi wanted to tell you that I really enjoyed reading your book “A waste of good paper” I would like to ask you for some tips on writing a book i like actually i love reading book and i finished reading your book the same day i got it from the library i am happy to add it to my collection of favourite books. I want to write a book about my life so far i am only 15 but i want to achieve something and i have started many times its just when it comes to going on i just become blank i forget everything or i just don’t know what to write. If you don’t mind telling me some of your secrets please do share. Thanks Nikolas [Nik the gamer]
AN ELEPHANT AND A MOUSE IN BRISTOL
Thanks to Bristol Foyles for inviting me in as part of their Storybox summer of events. Some of the children were feeling loud and some of the children were feeling quiet. So this is the poem we all came up with:
ELEPHANT AND MOUSE
Louder than an elephant stomping!
Louder than an ambulance zooming!
Louder than a whole skyscraper falling down!
Louder than a lion’s roar!
Quieter than a mouse squeaking.
Quieter than a worm in the soil.
Quieter than a hedgehog sleeping.
Quieter than a book waiting for someone to read it.
By children at Foyles, Cabot Circus, Bristol writing with Sean Taylor, July 2016.
THE TOP 10 REASONS WHY I READ TO MY CHILDREN
As well as being the author of some books for children, I am the father of two boys under 10. Like many (most?) parents, I can feel regrets about the things I’ve not managed to do together with my boys. We’ve never built a tree-house. I haven’t taken a half-day off to sit down with them and make that model pirate ship they were once given. The campervan trip to Ireland hasn’t happened yet… But I have read to them as much as I possibly can. And there are no regrets about that.
These are ten reasons why:
1. THE SHARING
In modern times, many parents have lost touch with what you could call ‘traditional children’s culture’. I’m thinking of the stories, games, songs, rhymes, traditions and rituals which would once have been passed from one generation to the next. Reading to your children can go some way to making up for that. If there were books you loved as a child, it’s easy to pass them on. I’ve had a fantastic time revisiting (by reading aloud) old favourites of mine like John Burningham’sHumbert, Winnie the Pooh, Moominsummer Madness, James and the Giant Peach and Treasure Island. And the fantastic-ness is doubled when it’s shared with a child.
Books offer language that goes beyond the range of everyday talk. And stories offer delights that ordinary conversations rarely do. So reading aloud to a child is a great way to help them become confident language users. This has been particularly important in my family. I’m British, but my wife is Brazilian. Our boys grew up in São Paulo. Their ‘mother tongue’ is (quite literally) Portuguese. I know the fact that they are both good English speakers today, owes a lot to all the books in English we’ve enjoyed together.
3.THE BOOKS THEMSELVES
As you can see from my post on Maurice Sendak (somewhere below) I think picture books are one of the great art forms to come out of the 20th century. (Up there with the three-and-a-half-minute rhythm and blues song!) You get characters that children love, page-turning stories, inventive, skilfully-crafted illustrations, flights of imagination, colour, humour, emotion and – as if all that wasn’t enough – endings which uplift, provoke, surprise, or do all three. The wealth of picture books available is a treasure chest to share with any child. And it’s not just picture books that are special. Middle grade fiction is very much abuzz. So I’m not planning to stop reading to my boys any time soon!
Most children find learning to read and write a tough business. But if they’re being read good books they’ll be more motivated to succeed at it. They’ll be more at home in the landscape of words on pages. And you can give them bits of practice too – by pausing the flow of a story, and getting them to read out words. Our six-year-old doesn’t have much patience for practising his phonics and key-words. But if I give him reading challenges from a book that I’m reading aloud to him, he’s noticeably more motivated, calm and persistent.
Children’s questions are wonderful (wonder-filled) things. They are a marks of curiosity and the desire to learn. They contain hope. So I always listen carefully to them and give the best answers I can. (Even if the conversation goes: “Does everyone in the world die?” “Yes, it’s sad but everyone does.” “What about mermaids?”) Reading-time with children is a great space for these questions to come out – whether they’re old questions waiting to be asked, or new ones inspired by what’s being read. When you’re reading together, there’s time and space for reflection. Your child can ask you things. Or you can ask them.
Sometimes children need you to go with them on the journey into a book. Our 9-year-old likes to read a lot of things on his own, these days. But there are books he’d like to have read to him. This may be because the story looks challenging to him, in some way. Or it may be that it’s a book from a different era that he’d like an adult to help ‘interpret’. One way or another, if you offer yourself to a child as a book companion, you’ll broaden their reading horizons.
There is so much comedy in writing for children. And laughter (like most things) is best enjoyable when it’s shared. I did actually fall off the bed from laughing so much…when reading our oldest son Roald Dahl’s, The Twits.
It’s not just questions. There is other talk sparked during and after the reading. Good stories stay with us. My boys and I chat about books we have read days, weeks, months or years after we have finished them.
You can choose what direction to travel (towards adventure, humour, poetry, magic, or more besides.) You take a break from the busyness of things. You can do it every day, home or away. You find somewhere comfortable to sit yourselves down. There is calm. You journey into the imagination, together with a child. It’s a delight.
All around us as night draws in, parents start up the quiet rhythms of telling stories to children. It goes on right round the world. And there’s nothing new in the knowledge that a story is the best way to end the day’s excitement and settle down for sleep. It’s been going on for tens of thousands of years. They are bridges that lead from the real world into the world of our dreams. (And if the adult readers sometimes fall asleep too…well…it happens!)
These are ten reasons why I have spent hours and hours reading to my sons. On reflection, I suppose those hours have really been our tree house, our pirate ship and our campervan adventure across the sea…
I'D RATHER JUST BE ME
Many thanks to the special staff at Brent Libraries who invited me for an author visit yesterday.
Thanks also to the Year Two children (St Paul’s Class from Our Lady of Lourdes Primary, and Rose Class from Harlesden Primary) who answered riddles, listened to stories, filled the libraries with laughter and ideas, and borrowed a lot of books…
To celebrate the publication of DON’T CALL ME CHOOCHIE POOH! today, here is the poem St Paul’s Class invented:
THE SILLY NAMES POEM
Don’t call me BIBBY BOBBY GOO GOO GUMBO!
Don’t call me MY LITTLE OOFAM BOOFAM!
Don’t call me ISSUM WISSUM SWEETIE TOES!
All those sound like names for babies.
Don’t call me TEENSY WEENSY CHICKABIDDY!
Don’t call me OOPSIE BOOPSIE HONEY BUNNY!
Don’t call me YICKLE PICKLE BOO BOO!
I’D RATHER JUST BE ME!
by Year Two St Paul’s at Our Lady of Lourdes R.C. Primary, working with Sean Taylor, Wembley Library, 3rd February 2016.
MUSIC, UNICORNS, PIRATES AND ROCKETS
Follow this link for a rhythm-and-fun-filled reading of my recent picture book, IT’S A GROOVY WORLD, ALFREDO! : http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/cbeebies/episode/b06z8xqr/cbeebies-bedtime-stories-520-pete-dalton-its-a-groovy-world-alfredo .
The book is dedicated to the big-hearted, political, performing poet, Adrian Mitchell.
My dedication reads:
In memory of Adrian Mitchell, 1932 – 2008.
He pulled music, unicorns, pirates and rockets
from his magical coat of umpteen pockets…
Adrian Mitchell helped me along my writing path. His help came from conversations I had with him (sadly, no longer possible.) And it came from examples he set in his own writing (very much still available and as fierce, funny and inspiring as ever…)
He is a poet remembered for the big-heartedness, the fierceness and the performing I have mentioned above. But I chose to dedicate IT’S A GROOVY WORLD, ALFREDO! to him because it’s a musical and a playful story.
Adrian Mitchell was the most musical of poets. He taught me that the rhythms and lyrics of songs can make words dance, even when there’s no actual music.
And he was playful, even when writing about things he took very seriously. Here’s an example which comes to mind – his words on the subject of bringing more poetry into school classrooms: “Make poetry something to look forward to. If you can’t get a poet, why not bring something else into the classroom? There aren’t enough animals in school – bring in a dog! Or puppies. Once the children have stopped playing with them they’ll want to write poems. Maybe the best thing to bring in would be a giraffe…”
People in Lambeth, south London, are battling to save libraries from being closed, or turned into gyms with unstaffed book-corners. And they are not the only ones. So here are thirteen thank yous for librarians:
THIRTEEN THANK YOUS FOR LIBRARIANS
Thank you for the discovery that’s possible every time you unlock the library door.
Thank you for the learning and the concentration that goes on around you.
Thanks for the reading you do, so you can help others choose the reading they want.
Thank you for encouraging young people to use libraries.
Thank you for persisting in times when public attention is pulled so many ways.
Thank you for keeping at it, though libraries are always among the first targets for cuts.
Thanks for the smell of your libraries…the smell of books that are alive.
Thanks for the noise in your libraries. They were never silent. And a library at work is one of the loveliest human sounds.
Thank you for the excitement of arriving at the library and seeing the possibilities spread out, waiting.
Thank you for the spells of daydreaming you enable.
Thank you for living with the stereotype of the bespectacled, softly-spoken librarian, even though you know the truth: that a good librarian is a kind of magician!
Thank you for putting the books back at the end of the day.
Thank you for the good things your work creates which cannot be measured, or proven by statistics, or even put into words.
I’ve spent some of my life living in Brazil. I first went there back in 1994, and it didn’t take long for me to discover the poetry of Carlos Drummond de Andrade.
‘Drummond’, as he is known to Brazilians, lived from 1902 until 1987. And though he was a famously shy man who wrote poetry (rarely a bestseller), he is known, until today, right across Brazil.
In fact, there is a statue of Carlos Drummond de Andrade now…sitting by the Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro, near to which he lived for many years.
Not much of Drummond’s writing has been translated into English. So, some while ago, I translated 18 of my favourite poems of his from Portuguese into English.
These translated poems got put to one side because I’ve been concentrating on writing books for young people. But I thought about one of them this afternoon. In Portuguese it is called O Elefante. You’ll find my English version below.
Drummond wrote in challenging ways, but he nearly always used language that is down to earth. And he wrote with a sense of humour. The poem below is from a brilliant, heart-warming, funny collection of poems called A Rosa do Povo, published in 1945.
I make an elephant
from the little that I have.
Bits of wood
salvaged from old furniture
should just hold him up.
Then I fill him with cotton,
cheap stuffing, sweetness.
Glue holds his
drooping ears in place.
His trunk rolls up.
It is the happiest part
of his architecture.
But that still leaves the tusks,
made from this pure material
I cannot figure out.
A precious stuff so white
that it is rolled in the circus dust
and still comes up clean, intact.
Then the last touch, the eyes,
where the most fluid
and permanent part
of the elephant is kept,
oblivious to the scam.
So here he is, my modest elephant
ready to go out
looking for friends
in a bored world
which no longer believes in animals,
which lives in suspicion of things.
There he goes, all majestic, fragile
weight, fanning himself
and slowly shifting
his sewn hide
on which there are cloth flowers
and clouds hinting at
a more poetic world
where love brings back together
the forms of nature.
My elephant walks off
down the busy street
but no one bothers to look.
They do not even laugh
at the tail threatening to
abandon the rest of the body.
He is all grace, in spite of
legs which get in the way
and a bulging belly
which might collapse
at the slightest push.
There is elegance in the way
he shows the scant life he has,
and not a soul
in this city allows itself
to take in the fugitive image
of his tender body,
but hungry and touching.
Hungry for heart-rending lives
for meetings by moonlight
in the deepest ocean,
under tree roots,
or in the hearts of shells,
for lights which won’t blind
but which shine through
the thickest tree trunks,
his walk, which takes him onward
without crushing the plants
on the battlefield,
in search of places,
untold in any book,
leaves a trail which
only the wind,
the leaves, the ants
Men ignore it.
They only dare show themselves
in the peace behind curtains
And late at night
my elephant returns.
But he returns worn out.
His hesitant feet
fall to pieces in the dust.
He didn’t find
what he needed,
what we needed,
my elephant and I
in whom I love to disguise myself.
Weary of inquiry,
the whole contraption falls apart
as if it were nothing but paper.
The glue dissolves.
Everything inside him,
the forgiveness, the caresses,
the feathers, the cotton,
spill out over the carpet
like a dismantled myth.
Tomorrow I start again.
by Carlos Drummond de Andrade
translation Sean Taylor
SONG OF THE SEA
Last week I went to the beautiful animated film SONG OF THE SEA. I raise my hat to director and writer Tomm Moore for heading off in opposite directions to most of the feature films being made for young people today. There is poetry in his hand-drawn images. There is a fresh sort of music to the storytelling. And (in an interview which originally appeared on Cartoonbrew) it is good to hear him say this about working for young audiences:
People have been asking me if I want to make movies for adults. I don’t see why not, but I also don’t see making movies for adults as more important. In fact, I actually think making movies for kids is more important because they shape you. I watch so many movies as an adult and forget about most them instantly, but those I saw as a kid left a deep impression. So we have a huge responsibility when we make movies aimed at kids to say something they need to know, instead of just distracting them…
Three quotations on frogs (to celebrate the launch of my new picture book IT'S A GROOVY WORLD, ALFREDO!)
Philosopher of ancient China, Lao-Tse: “A frog in a well cannot imagine the ocean.”
American writer, Mark Twain: “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.”
American actress, Cameron Diaz: “I’d kiss a frog even if there was no promise of a Prince Charming popping out of it. I love frogs.”