The PoetryJoe Show autumn tour kicks off on Saturday 31st August at the Gulbenkian Theatre in Canterbury.
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Here are some examples of the wonderful writing that was produced by children at Burdett-Coutts Primary School for the final day of our six week writing sessions with the children of Year 3. We all listened to work being read aloud and the children commented and gave feedback after each reading. The comments and feedback were thoughtful and interesting.
The Song of Siger – by Sammi in 3G Orange as the sun, Fierce as a lion, Huge as a house, My orange fluffy fur is soft like a bear, I run like a fast cheetah, I purr like a fluffy cat, I creep like a quiet mouse My black stripes are as black as the night sky
An Adventure Story - By Ahkim in 3G One day I found a door, doors can some in all shapes and sizes but the door I found was extremely small! When I came down the old wooden stairs I found a tiny door. I was feeling terrified in case something bad came out of the door. Quietly, I opened the door and the floor was made out of clouds. In front of me was a green and black portal. I went into the portal and a jam army greeted me to defeat the ice monster. When we were fighting the ice monster it threw ice blades at us. We were all very injured. Then I made a weapon called the jam canon and we fired jam at the ice monster. The ice monster died and the jam army said, “Thank you so much you saved our people”. I replied, “That’s ok” and I went back through the portal, opened the door and went back home.
A Superhero Story – by Amaju in 3G Sasha Strickers (Alice) was a loud girl and she seemed quite joyful but her parents were always busy and she was always upset. Sasha Strickers had long, curly brown hair and pretty big, brown eyes. She was a kind, beautiful girl who always wanted to give charity to poor people. During the night she used this kindness to save the earth because Sasha Strickers was really a superhero! One dark, spooky night when there was a hurricane coming Sasha Strickers was in her bedroom wondering what adventure she would be be part of tonight. Suddenly, she heard somebody cry “Help somebody save us!” so she decided to investigate…
An Adventure Story – by Bella in 3G When I walked down the stairs I saw a mysterious little door. I whispered to myself, “What is that door doing there?” Slowly, I walked towards the door thinking it was going to jump right at me but I had to face my fears and open that door so I did! Worryingly, I opened the door but nothing happened. All I saw was a huge winter wonderland and a fun fair. There was an old, dusty ride with a beautiful fountain. It was when I walked a bit further that I saw a huge ice rink and a sign on the floor which I picked up. It said “Don’t go on it because it has been cursed.” I don’t believe that there is such a thing as a curse so I picked up my ice skates, put them on and started to skate…
In 1906, The Historical Association was set up ‘to support the study and enjoyment of history.’ And in 2010, it inaugurated the Young Quills Award for children’s historical fiction. There are two sections: Primary and Secondary. The award is unusual in that the young people themselves nominate, review and short-list the historical novels they have enjoyed and only then do the adult judges get involved with the final decisions.
The Historical Novel Society has reviewed all the short-listed books for 2012. I myself reviewed two books in the Secondary section. The first was A Skull in Shadow’s Lane by Robert Swindells.
1946, England. Jinty, age eleven, and her ten-year-old brother, Josh, live in the sleepy village of Coney Cley where nothing ever happens. Or so they think – until they decide to explore Shadows Lane and the abandoned Cornflower Cottage, which is rumoured to be haunted. But it isn’t until they see a living skull in an upstairs window that they realize the rumours are true.
Paul Bluet, a traumatized man returned from the death camps is camping out in the cottage. He is right to be scared; an ex-camp guard on the run has just recognized him ….
I read this book at a sitting and couldn’t put it down. The period detail is convincing without being intrusive. And the post-war mindset is just right, too. For example, the more formal relationships between pupils and teachers are nicely caught; not to mention the greater freedom for children – no health and safety concerns in evidence! Historically, it showed both the austerities of post-war Britain, as well as the darker side of war.
It opens in 1945, in Poland. The Germans are in retreat but Nazi death squads are still hunting down Jews. Thirteen-year-old Felix is in hiding, protected by Gabriek, a Pole who occasionally works with the partisans. When Gabriek disappears, Felix goes in search of the partisans hiding in the forest. Will they take him in, or will they kill him?
Felix’s parents have been taken to a death camp; he has seen people beaten, brutalized and murdered; he is in great danger himself, yet, somehow, he manages to retain his basic human decency and hold onto hope.
He learns that in a situation where humanity is stripped down to the bone, when all that’s left is your name, you must choose whether you will be a kind and decent human being, even in such horrific circumstances, or someone who can only feel hatred – a destroyer. Felix chooses to be a ‘mending person’.
I was gripped by this book; it was inspiring and it also moved me to tears.
It opens in 1598. Thirteen-year-old Thomas Munmore, a cobbler’s son living in Stratford-upon-Avon, longs to be an actor.
When he’s forced to flee after being caught poaching, he makes for London with his friend, Alice. But things do not work out as planned. Far from being a city whose streets are paved with gold, as Thomas believes, Elizabethan London is dirty and dangerous. Thomas manages to get work with the Lord Chamberlain’s Men theatre company but then he and Alice find themselves caught up in a treasonous plot to kill the queen….
Road to London is a terrific read, and doesn’t pull its punches about Elizabethan London. It’s a filthy, smelly, and dangerous place, there are few provisions to help those in need; justice is skewed in favour of the rich, and starvation is an everyday reality. Nobody cares whether Thomas or Alice live or die.
Finally, I reviewed The Great Escape by Megan Rix, set in the summer of 1939. Robert Edwards, aged twelve, and his nine-year-old sister, Lucy, live in London. They have three pets: a collie, Rose, once a sheepdog on a farm in Devon; Buster, a lively Jack Russell terrier; and a ginger and white cat called Tiger.
When war breaks out, Robert and Lucy are evacuated to their grandmother in Devon, and the three pets go to some neighbours, the Harrises, to be looked after. But Mr Harris resents their arrival and drags them to the local animal shelter to be put down – along with three-quarters of a million other pets. Tiger smells danger and escapes and, in the ensuing fracas, Buster and Rose escape as well. But where will they be safe?
I thoroughly enjoyed this heart-warming book. I learnt a lot about how animals were treated during WW2, and about what they themselves contributed towards the war effort. Everyone is tested. Robert and Lucy must cope with new and difficult circumstances. Their granny is suffering from mild dementia and can’t look after them; Robert’s teacher is sadistic; and there’s a spiteful girl at Lucy’s new school.
The animals, too, have much to learn as Rose takes them on the long and dangerous journey to the farm in Devon, the only other home she remembers.
So, four very different books, all of them very readable, without dumbing down the history in any way.
It was time to review all the exciting sessions that had taken place over the previous five weeks and to see how the children had been inspired and to celebrate being a ‘Wriggle-room Writer’.
However, Lynda and I had a special mission. We had been tasked with writing a ‘celebratory song’ with each class. This was to be written, learned and performed in a 45 minute time slot.
We knew that a song –writing collaboration with twenty-seven children might prove a little tricky so since we were limited for time it was decided to move quickly to raise the energy level in the room so that ideas would flow spontaneously.
Lynda got the children on their feet to perform the ‘rage stomp’, that she had taught them on a previous visit, from her fabulous Sand Dancers’ books. I followed that up by teaching them a musical version of Spike Milligan’s Ning Nang Nong poem I had written for a show and very soon the energy level was ready for us to begin to write a song.
Since I am a songwriter, I am fairly used to collaborating with other songwriters. The usual way of proceeding is to have a few ideas that you put forward just to get the ball rolling. It is understood that the ideas can change second by second as new and better ideas form.
So with Lynda acting as scribe armed with a marker and white board and me perched on the side of a desk with a guitar we began by writing the chorus with the children.
This was easy….Wriggle Room., Wriggle Room writers….We are the Wriggle-room writers.
The tune really wrote itself …think ‘earworm’ with an annoying catchy tune. The whole class was singing it within minutes and it was time to write the verses.
By asking the children strategic questions and fielding their responses, the song somehow began to reveal itself. I suspect this was because we were magically sprinkled with fairy dust, given Lynda’s connections.
The children were absolutely brilliant and extremely pleased with their song so we recorded it very roughly on an MP3 (hear below) and we played it back to them. First mission accomplished.
This was not the end however. One little boy came up to me and said very seriously ‘This is ‘our’ song isn’t it, not anyone else’s song?’ I responded by saying of course it was their song.
It was a good question because Lynda and I had originally thought perhaps once we had developed a structure for the ‘ Wriggle-room Writer’ song with the first class that we would use it with the second class and perhaps just write some extra verses.
That wasn’t to be. No we began again and the next class wrote another completely different song. This time think ‘power ballad’ full of angst, longing, and passion to be ..yes you guessed it.. ‘ A Wriggle-room Writer’ of course! The children were delightful, imaginative and friendly and it was wonderful day. Thanks kids!
I’ve now been the UK Children’s Book Editor for the Historical Novel Society Review for some months and overseen the children’s reviews for the November, February and May issues. It’s been very interesting; I like knowing what’s new in historical novels, and eight interested members of the HNS help with the reviewing.
What I hadn’t realized, though, was how the books would pile up. There are points when I can scarcely see the carpet in my study. OK, a number are waiting to be posted to reviewers, but that still leaves a pile which I’ve reviewed but don’t have room to keep, plus a few books which are unsuitable for reviewing (i.e. not really historical).
What to do with them? I’m a great fan of public libraries and, in these cash-strapped times, they need all the support they can get. I emailed Tony Brown, the stock and reader development manager for Islington libraries, and explained the situation. All I wanted, I said, was for the books to go to a good home. Would he be interested?
Almost immediately, I got a reply. Yes, please. He’d be delighted to have them. So I parcelled them up, addressed it to Tony Brown, and staggered to my nearest library – there were a lot of books and they were heavy.
The May HNS Review has just come out, so a new pile of books need a good home. They are:
The Disgrace of Kitty Grey by Mary Hooper
SOS Lusitania by Kevin Kiely
The Positively Last Performance by Geraldine McCaughrean
Song Hunter by Sally Prue
Sun Catcher by Sheila Rance
The Hidden Gift by Ian Somers (the non-historical one which slipped through the net)
Queenie by Jacqueline Wilson
This time I did something different. I thought it would make an interesting blog, so I suggested to Tony that I bring them myself and say ‘Hello’. I’d bring my camera and perhaps a kind colleague could photograph us both, plus the books.
So here we are, in Islington Central children’s library.
However, that’s not the end of the story. There is an interesting sequel …
Last week I had the pleasure of meeting the Year 3 classes from Burdett Coutts. These were the kids whose worryingly low literacy levels prompted the school to invite us in as writers in residence. I found both classes to be lively, focused and full of ideas. Our session was about Plot.
Whatever the piece of writing you are doing, it’s good to have a structure. So we began by reading “Georgie and the dragon” as an example of a quest story, and then looked at the usefulness of the number ‘three’. Three parts to a story – opening, middle and ending. And then, three obstacles or problems to give the middle of your story interest.
Before diving deep into planning their individual quest stories, both classes brainstormed a collection of action words that would help move their characters around, by land, sea and air. The resulting displays (to be continued) contained pooled vocabulary that was both useful and expressive.
We then played a game of two teams. The challenge was to invent some hair-raising problems and the ingenious solutions to them, that a character might meet on their journey. i don’t want to give too much away just yet, but some quite horrendous situations were devised along with some very imaginative ways round them…Year 3 are definitely the people I’d like to be stuck behind a spilled lorry load of cow dung with!
I gave the children some small books to plan out a complete story in and I’m really looking forward to seeing the amazing adventures that result. But judging by the sheer interest and enthusiasm that these children show, the best story of all may be that of their own journey and the challenges they will surely overcome.
I did the second session at Burdett-Coutts, a week after Katharine Quarmby launched the six weeks of Wriggle Room Writers workshops with Year 3s.
My theme was character and we kicked off with all the students talking about who their favourite book characters are and why they like them. Lots of Roald Dahl characters popped up. No surprise there!
I introduced Eliot Jones, who is the main character in my picture book, Eliot Jones, Midnight Superhero and asked the children to pay attention to the adjectives and actions that I used to create the character and we talked about them after reading Eliot.
The rest of the session was based around the creation of their own superhero character, brainstorming characters and emphasising the fun of using alliteration and rhyme in the names of the characters. Some of the characters they came up with:
Toffee Softy – a girl with big hair who can capture baddies in her hair
Mr. Blingi Gadget – He has a big necklace with a medallion that opens up with a laser as well as numerous other gadgets
Big Belly Joe: Joe has a big soft belly and he can bounce around it and get places
Singing Sophie or Super Singing Sophie whose loud voice could injure her enemies.
The children all started to develop their characters, drawing pictures, and describing them using great adjectives and actions which elaborated their charaters’ powers and characters. They began write some of their favourite adjectives and similes on cut out shapes to put up on a classroom display.
Taking their cue from Eliot, (a quiet boy with a huge imagination) they will hopefully let their imaginations go wild in the creation of their characters in their writing lesson, which will carry on the character work they started in this session.
I thoroughly enjoyed the ideas and enthusiasm the children brought to our sessions and, like Katharine, I’m really looking forward to reading their stories, creations, and favourite words later in the month!
– Anne Cottringer