Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Can we save the tiger?

The School Library Association celebrated the 2012 Information Book Award on Monday 22 October 2012 with a prize-giving event at the Free Word Centre in London. The full list of winners is here, with the most successful book undoubtedly being Can We Save the Tiger? by Martin Jenkins, illustrated by Vicky White and published by Walker Books (ISBN 9781406319095). It won its section (7-12) in both the Children’s Choice and the Judges' Choice as well as continuing its clean sweep as the Overall Winner in Children’s and Judges' Choices.

Coincidentally, guest blogger Gordana Nesterovic recently sent me a review of this book - here's what she had to say:

After attending a book judging event, I feel the way I look at picture books has changed forever. My impressions of this experience were still fresh when I came across Martin Jenkins’ book Can we save the tiger? with illustrations by Vicky White. This is a non-fiction picture book that tells us about endangered species, wildlife and other aspects of conservation. It focuses on the reasons some species have become endangered and acknowledges the difficult choices faced by humans, sympathizing with, rather than vilifying them, for the decisions they make. It explains difficult concepts very clearly and gives positive examples of what has been achieved so far. While not attempting to teach everything there is to know about the subject, it does offer so many ideas that it inspires one to find out more.

The style of writing makes it easy to understand the problem and the impact it might have, and would appeal to a wide range of abilities as the typography is cleverly used to give as much or as little information as the reader requires. The main statements are made in a large font and are very catchy, but as more details are given, the font gets smaller and it changes shape. This allows the reader to dig deeper into the subject and find out more facts, but also makes it fun to look at, keeps interest going and is very aesthetically pleasing. Some pages have larger block of texts, some have very few words, and some just a double spread of illustrations which add powerful images to the text. They are mainly pencil drawings on cream coloured paper, with only a few in colour, and they really capture the spirit and beauty of each animal as well as showing the dangers they face. Some pictures are accompanied by captions containing facts about each animal, again, with clever use of typography.

This book is so well done that it could provide a tool to teach many other topics, not just conservation. It could be used in art classes, or it could be used to teach non-fiction writing, as a prime example of how text and illustration work together, complementing and bringing out the best in one another. It would be nice to find a similarly effective way of teaching other important issues. In the meantime, look out for other books by these authors: Martin Jenkins, a conservation biologist, has written several nonfiction books for children, including Ape, Grandma Elephant’s in charge, The Emperor’s egg, and Chameleons are cool. Vicky White worked as a zookeeper for several years before earning an MA in Natural History Illustration from London’s Royal College of Art. She made her picture book debut with Ape.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

A gate reopens on National Poetry Day

In this guest post for National Poetry Day, Alison Forde writes about a seminar she attended with the world's first professor of children's poetry.

I was fortunate enough to attend a seminar on children's poetry with the worlds first (and possibly still the only) professor of children's poetry, Morag Styles, of Cambridge University. Morag is the author of several texts on children's literature including From the Garden to the Street: Three Hundred Years of Children's Poetry, Cassell, 1998. Morag treated us to a brief run-down of this history with readings from Bunyan's Country Rhimes for Children (1686), through to works by the current poet laureate Carol Anne Duffy. Throughout this three hundred year history authors producing work specifically for the consumption of children, which has ranged from the moralising and didactic to some of the most beautiful and timeless, have found their works marginalised and excluded from general anthologies compiled for the appreciation of poetry in the English language. The poems we looked at in the seminar which struck me with their timeless quality included those of Christina Rossetti, whose beautiful lullaby rhythms would still sooth many a baby to sleep, and R.L Stevenson, whose work in A Child's Garden of Verses demonstrated his ability to think himself back into childhood in writing for children. Ann and Jane Taylor writing for children around 1800, who found considerable fame in their own time, are now almost forgotten, despite Jane being the author of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, now often infuriatingly attributed to “Anon”.

For the second part of the seminar, Morag invited us to examine two examples of work from Carol Ann Duffy: First Summer and Star and Moon, both featuring mother and child relationships. Voicing one's opinions on poetry to the world's first professor of children's poetry could have been quite daunting, but I found myself, no longer at school and looking for the correct answer, liberated to give a genuine response to the works, albeit a response mediated through the lens of motherhood, which was also a stimulus for Duffy to write much of her poetry for children. Which brings me to one of the key dilemmas of the critical study of children's literature – it is written for children, and yet it's is impossible for the adult author, parent or teacher to know exactly how a child reads and experiences children's literature, including poetry.

I considered myself to be someone not much concerned with poetry. Like many adults, the last time I devoted much thought to it was at school, although I have read and enjoyed poetry written for children with my own family. The seminar with Professor Styles has reopened a gate into the garden of children's verse.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

A celebration of reading: choosing books for Carnegie and Greenaway

In this guest post, Gordana Nesterovic describes an event to choose nominations for the prestigious Carnegie and Greenaway awards, and concludes that the methods used would be transferrable to other situations, such as the classroom or a children's book club.

I attended this free event in the Mitchell Library last week along with about 14 other participants. It was organised by CILIP (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) in order to decide on the Scottish nominees for CILIP's Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Children’s Book Awards for 2013. The event had a party theme, so the first part of it was set up as a game – there were 20 props for guessing book titles, all previous award winners. Some of them were really hard to guess, but some, like I will not ever never eat a tomato or Each peach, pear, plum were easy, and all of them provided a great sense of achievement once completed.

We were then put into three groups, each with a pile of books to look at and discuss. We started with the books suggested for the Greenaway award for illustration and were given guidelines on what we should base our judgements on: for example not to look at the story, but to look at the illustration, how it works with typography and how expressive it all is. This was great fun to do, but also a way to learn about some new books as well as looking at them from a different perspective than when one is actually reading for oneself or to a child: one did not need to have read the book. It was really interesting to see how quickly people become passionate about books that they had just seen for the first time. Groups moved around the piles of books and once they had seen them all, each group had to choose two that they wanted to nominate and then present their case. Everyone then had one vote to give to their favourite book, and in the end I want my hat back by Jon Klassen (for its simple but very expressive and effective illustrations) and Black dog by Levi Pinfold (for the lovely colours and very atmospheric pictures, also for how well the pictures were arranged around words) came out on top. Again by Emily Gravett was a very strong contender as well as Jack and the baked beanstalk by Colin Stimpson. The old classic Around the world in eighty days, illustrated by Robert Ingpen, caught my attention because it was the only book nominated for illustration that was not a picture book. The quality of illustration was outstanding and really captured the time of the story with the style of the drawings and colours used. Even though we did not choose to nominate it for the award, I was sure this would make a fantastic Christmas present for a book lover of any age.

The second part of judging was for the Carnegie award – the best storyline and how well it was told. I wish I had known the shortlisted books longer in advance but, all the same, enjoyed hearing about them and was certainly inspired to go and look for them. The decision was made much more unanimously with two books emerging way ahead of all other nominations: Far rockaway by Charlie Fletcher and  The weight of water by Sarah Crossan. Charlie Fletcher’s book was reported by all who read it (and most people did) to be a gripping story impossible to put down. The story features a very strong female character and would appeal to all, but especially to girls. Crossan's book is written in verse and was liked by people who would not normally like that style. It is a story, again, with strong female characters which explores relationships on many different levels. Morris Gleitzman's After was also highly commended. It is the fourth in a series but is a great story on its own as well. Several people mentioned the storyline in Crimson Shard by Theresa Flavin about unexpected turn of events during an ordinary visit to a London museum, which reminded me of Hollow Earth, a book that I recently reviewed here.

I think this model of judging is transferable and could be recreated and interpreted in different settings and in a variety of situations. I kept imagining children’s book club meetings or using it as a model for discussing books in the classroom, or choosing and deciding on the ‘book of the month’, for example. Teachers might like to use it in conjunction with CILIP's Shadowing scheme to get their students involved in the awards. I also feel this could also be a good team building exercise as such a lot happens in a very short time. I left the Mitchell Library beaming and inspired, having had a great time. I enjoyed looking at the new books and felt that I had also learnt a lot. I was pleased to know that Strathclyde University Library, where I work, already held several of the shortlisted books, and since the event, its catalogue shows many more as 'on order'.