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New books published

August 19, 2016


It’s a bit unusual to have three publications out in one month (July), but very exciting – and they are all collaborations with lovely people.

The first two are picture books, co-written with the English Traveller, Richard O’Neill, and are published to coincide with Gypsy Roma Traveller History Month. Yokki and the Parno Gry, about a magic horse and its relationship with a Traveller family which has fallen on hard times, is a really lovely story and was great fun to work on with Richard, turning it, with his blessing from an oral story to a picture book. The other, Ossiri and the Bala Mengro, is a more comical story about a monster, and a girl from a Travelling background who yearns to be a musician.

Equally, it was an honour to contribute a chapter, ‘Becoming English’ to A Country of Refuge, edited by Lucy Popescu and published by Unbound this month. This was a book that celebrates the contributions that refugees have made to this country. I wrote about my mother and grandmother coming to the UK just after the war from what was then Yugoslavia.

The first picture books reviews are in:

“This is a window onto a different culture and a reminder to have faith in imagination.” Super review by Nicolette Jones in the The Times and The Sunday Times Children’s Books Summer Reading!

Historical Novel Society on Ossiri and the Bala Mengro: Marion Rose reviewed it, writing: “This is a picture book where everything has been thought about, from the patterned end papers to the glossary that explains the sprinkling of unfamiliar words. It is beautiful to look at, and wonderful to read aloud. I thoroughly recommend it to anyone who is old enough to meet an ogre.”

Elizabeth Hawksley reviewed Yokki for the Historical Novel Society thus: “I loved learning about the Travelling life, what everyone did, and how they coped. It’s also a story about the power of the imagination to rise above the bad times and look forward to a better future. Children of 4-9 should love it.”

Leeds Gate, a Traveller charity, reviewed the books, with 11 year old Jerry Hanrahan writing:

“My name is Jerry Hanrahan, I am 11. I went to primary school except for most of the last year.  I’m hoping to go to high school in September. I read the books in our training room at Leeds GATE with my brother Billy crawling and exploring around us!

I read Parno Gry, it was quite easy for me to read, and I liked the story.  My favourite character was Yokki cos he told stories.  The worst bit was when Aunty couldn’t sell her flowers, I felt really disappointed for her.  The pictures were good.  I read half the other book, Ossiri and the Bala Mengro, but then my brother was making a lot of noise so Helen read through the rest.

I think these books would be best for children a little bit younger than me, say about nine.  I liked the stories being about Travellers and what was in the pictures. I think they should write more books. Thumbs up!”

illustration Marieke Nelissen

“A traditional Romani folk tale brought to stunning life… hugely original story introducing characters and stories from other cultures in an engaging and delightful way.” ReadItDaddy

Over at the Travellers Times, a magazine for the Roma, Romani and Traveller community, the books were reviewed thus: “This book, Ossiri and the Bala Mengro was a fantastic read, all though it is mostly suited to younger children as there are a lot of pictures. The illustrations are colourful, entertaining and show what is happening in each part of the story well….Yokki and the Parno Gry…made me feel hopeful towards the future. ‘Yokki and the Parno Gry’ is a wonderful tale of what a child’s hope and imagination can bring to a family, it’s just an added bonus that it’s about the Gypsy and Traveller community.–Features/Richard-ONeils-Gypsy-Traveller-stories-book.aspx


Samantha Ellis also reviewed A Country of Refuge for
The Times Literary Supplement:

“Lucy Popescu’s A Country of Refuge is a collection of both fiction and non-fiction about refugees. A moving essay by Joan Smith about Anne Frank’s father’s attempts to seek asylum, comparing it to the story of Aylan (Alan) Kurdi, a victim of “the same depressingly bureaucratic response to refugees fleeing fascist regimes”, proves that empathy is not the preserve of fiction. Not every contribution earns its place. An excerpt from Rose Tremain’s story “The Beauty of the Dawn Shift” is not nearly as powerful as the whole original. It is also a little unclear why two pieces (neither new) by William Boyd about Ken Saro-Wiwa have been included, since Saro-Wiwa was never a refugee. But this book is full of powerful writing. Many of the best contributions come from writers who are refugees,
or second-generation refugees, themselves. Hassan Abdulrazzak describes an encounter with an RSPCA inspector who refuses to allow his Iraqi family a dog, and his realization that “it was going to be a long, hard struggle to learn all the rules of my new homeland”; Katharine Quarmby tenderly describes her mother’s induction into the mysteries of The Archers.”

Pop-up Flashback – small book selection

August 19, 2016


The video shows pop-ups from the second children’s theatre production I co-created for Wordpepper which finished it’s final tour earlier this year. The show was presented by Half Moon Theatre in association with Apples and Snakes.

I made 19 pop-up books in total for the show, from very small to extremely large constructions which opened up to form the set. The video shows a small section of the smaller ones. These presented a type of illusion, being made to look like full books but often containing only one pop-up design to illustrate a moment in the show.

More Great Writing From Year 3 at Burdett-Coutts Primary School

January 18, 2014

Here are some stories from the students in 3H who were part of the six week Wriggle Room Writing workshop which you can read about in the previous post.

Mohammed K

One early day, Mr Tazz remembered it was December and he got to practice martial arts.

The place is set in an underwater palace, which has over 5000 people and they are all 

Mr Tazz wore a blue swimsuit with yellow shoulder pads and yellow stripes on his legs. 
In the middle there is a circle and it says ‘Mr T’. 
He likes riding his submarine and his jet-ski, also sharks and whales. Mr Tazz is 32 
and he practices martial arts. He lives in a special laboratory. 
Mr Tazz is mature, courageous and kind. Mr Tazz usually feels awesome.
Moments later, Mr Tazz was inventing a new vehicle called the jet bike and suddenly 
his Tazz phone was tingling so he answered it…….it was the Queen!
“Hello Mr Tazz, is that you? Can you help because the menacing Dr Octo has my crown! 
Bye”, said the Queen in a cranky voice.
So he swiftly ran out the palace but there was an army of brain washed people. He flew 
over them, he went even faster!
Finally he found Dr Octo, “You’re too late!” mentioned Dr Octo.
“How do you know?” asked Mr Tazz.
“Because I have an army” declared Dr Octo.
“Uh-oh” said Mr Tazz in a slow voice.
“ No one fear, Dr Finn is here!” Dr Finn said in a clear voice.
He pushed the octopus away. Mr Tazz ran and threw his Tazzarang and it snatched and 
located the Queen and gave it back.
“Oh how could I repay you?” cried the Queen.
“Well you can pay us billion sheus” suggested Dr Finn.
“If you say so” stammered the Queen.
“Yes!” Shouted  Mr  Tazz.
So everyone lived happily ever after but Dr Octo felt the opposite!



It was early on a Saturday morning when Shy was feeling very cool, calm and fine.
 Shy was a kind, helpful person. He wore dark, shiny boots with a brown, yellow 
Shy lived in a gloomy ship wreck.
Shy was working on his inventions that he wanted to use to defeat the mighty 
Claw Trox! 
Shy needed to watch out because Claw Trox had a plan too!
While Shy was working on his inventions there was a ring on his old phone. It was 
the Queen, she cried,  “oh Shy! Help! Someone has stolen the fish so that they can 
be their slaves!”  Screamed the Queen loudly.
“ I am on my way!”
When Shy ran out of his door he saw fish angrily charging at him. Shy got out of 
it because he had a rope and he grabbed the fish, Shy locked the fish in his house!
After that Shy was feeling anxious because he had never faced a villain that was 
part fish, part whale and part shark!
Then Shy swam so far and found Claw Trox’s lair. As soon as Shy swam into the cave 
he heard Claw Trox’s evil laugh echoing around him! Shy marched into the deep, dark 
and gloomy cave. 
A few seconds later Shy stepped on a stick and Claw Trox turned around and he said, 
“ Hello Shy, do you think you can beat me?”
When Claw Trox and Shy stood face to face, Shy had a rope and he tied it around 
Claw Trox and freed the fish. 
Then, so Claw Trox would not come back, he blew him out of a cannon!



Early one day, Star was in her shipwreck drinking juicy seaweed stew with the Queen. 
Star was wearing a blue, scaley skirt with a pink, soft flower in her hair. Her 
favourite thing to do was swimming around in circles, swishing her arms in the water. 
Her favourite thing to eat was fried fish with a salt drink and her best friend 
loved that too. Star liked painting her submarine the colour yellow and blue and 
it went really fast! The sea was very cold and dark so star sometimes swam around 
a lot so she could get warm.
After that the Queen went back to her palace, her palace where she keeps her bottles 
of potions. The Queen saw one of them was gone so she called Star on her underwater 
phone. She panicly screamed, “come right here! Spikey has stolen one of my potions!”
“I’ll come right away!” exclaimed Star. Star raced to the Queens castle where 
she explained all about it. Then, Star went into Spikey’s lair but she could not 
get in because there were sea urchins everywhere around the house.
“What shall I do?” complained Star to herself. “Oh! I know! I can use my underwater 
gloves that I use when I have to touch sea urchins!” yelled Star. Then she zoomed 
back to her shipwreck and grabbed them and it worked! She spent about an hour to 
take all the sea urchins off.
Star felt really cross with Spikey, nobody liked her at all so hardly anyone spoke 
to her. At last Star finished and got into Spikey’s lair and she poured the potion 
into Spikey’s mouth so she could get sick and not the Queen.
In the morning, Spikey did not feel well so she lay in bed all day! At the end of 
the day she knew what was wrong. Star had pured the potion in her mouth and soon 
after, about a month, she could not talk for the rest of her life! The people in 
the village were very happy.


December 18, 2013

Last spring, a group of us from the Islington Writers for Children went on a writing adventure with 2 classes of Year 3 students at Burdett-Coutts Primary School –  in six sessions over six weeks we hoped to inspire a love of  writing and words.  Each author did a different session and over the six weeks the Year 3s played lots of word games, brainstormed together and wrote their own stories and poems.  We all enjoyed it, and there were some wonderful pieces of writing!                                                                         orange

You can read them in an earlier blog – below.

We called this writing adventure — Wriggle Room Writers.

This year we were invited back to Burdett-Coutts to do it again with the next bunch of Year 3s!  Yippee!!  And so another Wriggle Room Writers experience got underway. We all played with plot, character, setting, voice, rhythm and rhyme and making up a song.  And along the way we gave each other feedback about our writing.  We were bowled over by the inventiveness and creativity of their stories and poems.  Watch out for those Burdett-Coutts Year 3 students and their big imaginations!  Before you know it, their books will be appearing on the bookshelves in your local bookshop!

In the final session, our resident singer-songwriter brought a guitar and each class wrote and performed a song in 45 minutes!!   This is a fabulous way to end the Wriggle Room Writers experience.  You can listen to their songs here and sing along with the words.

First off, here is Class 3T with their Lullaby Song



And here is Class 3H with their Underwater Christmas Song



The PoetryJoe Show autumn tour

August 28, 2013

leaflet 08The PoetryJoe Show autumn tour kicks off on Saturday 31st August at the Gulbenkian Theatre in Canterbury.

The show, created by Buzz authors Joseph Coelho and John O’Leary will also have a number of London dates (Richmix, Chelsea Theatre, Half-Moon) so we look forward to seeing you all.

The list of tour dates can be found here.

Please ‘like’ the PoetryJoe Show Facebook page – thanks!

Some Great Wriggle Room Writing from Burdett-Coutts Primary School

June 24, 2013


Having fun with words and songs

Having fun with words and songs

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…
One of Wriggle Room Writer displays before it got filled up!

One of Wriggle Room Writer displays before it got filled up!

The Young Quills Award by Elizabeth Hawksley

June 21, 2013

Swindells  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.

M GleitzmanMy second book was Morris Gleitzman’s After.

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.

In theMitchelhill Primary section, I reviewed The Road to London, by Barbara Mitchelhill.

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.

M Rix

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.


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