Monday, 29 October 2012

Proud to wear the T-shirt by Mary Hoffman

Assembled here this morning in Victoria Embankment Gardens: Left is Cressida Cowell, who had left her dragon at home, centre Philip Ardagh, who had brought his beard with him and right is Francesca Simon who was not being at all horrid (this does not describe their respective political stances). They were gathering for the Mass Lobby on Parliament for School Libraries.

Here's another luminary: Meg Rosoff. You can just glimpse her T-shirt and the yellow bags hold more. Other writers who were there were Chris Priestley, Candy Gourlay and me. (I'm bound to have forgotten someone).

Of course! Sensational illustrator Sarah McIntyre, with her own design of banner. I hear author An Vrombout was there too.

Me, An Vrombout, Cressida Cowell, Philip Ardagh, Francesca Simon, Sarah McIntyre, Meg Rosoff

This brilliant lobby was organised by Barbara Band, Vice President Elect of CILIP, and her helpers. Those of us attending were to have contacted our MPs and make an appointment to meet them in the Central Lobby of the Houses of Parliament. But mine is David Cameron, so I was not hopeful this would work.

Eventually we were ready to set off (that's Meg again, now holding a banner). We walked along the embankment to Westminster.

Barbara Band is on the left. On the way, the chant was suggested of:

Children are extraordinary
Make school libraries statutory

but I vetoed that one on the grounds it would sound as if librarians and authors did not now how to spell "statutory."

Meg suggested changing the first line to "What kids need is lots of story" and we had offers of "Here we are in all our glory." I thought maybe, "Don't bring up our kids as fools/Put a library in their schools."

But funnily enough, we had arrived at the Houses of Parliament by then and no chanting took place. I shouldn't have objected to the first one - nobody likes a pedant.

We had to stand by a statue across the road from the House of Commons and wait to to be told where to go. Strict security operated and we were let in by batches of about twenty (there were 120 or so on the march). The airport style scanner revealed a dubious object in my bag, which turned out to be my reading light for the homeward journey.

The police were charming and helpful and sympathetic to our cause. as soon as we were inside, we were directed to the café and loos but most of us heading off to the Central Lobby between the house of Commons and the House of Lords.

Image by Jorge Royan under Creative Commons

There the staff were, by contrast with the police, unfriendly, offhand and aloof, leaving us all quite sure who the "plebs" were. I filled in a green card for Dave, my local MP but he didn't come out. I suppose he was busy running the country. But it was exciting to hear people's names called to meet their MPs - Bill Cash, David Milliband, Michael Gove, Diane Abbott. 

Indeed, Bill Cash told his Lobbyist that he was going to draft an Early Day Motion about makes school libraries statutory! And this happened, according to Barbara:
"we had a meeting with Liz Truss (which also involved Annie Mauger and other CILIP staff) .... and the outcome is that the Minister has commissioned the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Libraries to lead an investigation into the benefits of school libraries."
It's a no-brainer really, isn't it? If you want a literate society, put a well-stocked library, run by a well-informed qualified librarian into every school.

And the T-shirt?

It was a brilliant day and I'm still wearing my T-shirt. There are bound to be other occasions when it will come in handy.

(T-shirt photo and authors' group photo shamelessly nicked from Facebook; all others taken by me)

Friday, 19 October 2012

It's Grimm down south

I am very slow on the uptake, I think. I recently reviewed a rather good adventure story for the Guardian, called The Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman. Then I saw and heard everywhere that Philip Pullman had done a re-telling of fifty of the best Grimm Tales.

But it wasn't until I had my weekly email from We Love this Book today, featuring yet another re-telling of the doughty German siblings' output, that the penny dropped.

by Ruth Brocklehurst and Gill Doherty
It is 200 years since the Brothers Grimm published their Kinder- und Hausmärchen, containing 86 stories, some of which are now so familiar we think we have always known them. One of my very favourite stories ever was recorded by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm: The Twelve Dancing Princesses.

And by a huge coincidence, my latest re-telling of the story was published this month:

This was a very nice commission from Barefoot Books, to provide a text to go with the mysterious and atmospheric artwork of French illustrator Miss Clara. And maybe it had something to do with that bi-centenary, Durr!

Sunday, 7 October 2012

What are little girls made of?

I am going to try and write this whole post without using the word "feisty"! For a long time now, books published for the 7-11 age range have been broken across gender lines and the most egregious examples are anything originated by Working Partners.

After the huge success of Rainbow Fairies by "Daisy Meadows" (now up to a 100 titles) they launched into Beast Quest by "Adam Blade" to perform the same magic for boys.

That says it all really: young girls = fairies, glitter, pink, rainbows and all things lovely; young boys = adventures, fighting and defeating curses. These series are written by a committee of different writers to a very tight brief and are nothing like the kind of books that grow out of the interests and passions of an individual creative writer.

So it is very refreshing to turn to two new books by writers who, without any sense of strain, are producing series which naturally feature forceful and resourceful heroines who have no intention of letting the boys have all the fun and adventures.

The Emerald Quest is the first in a projected series of six titles in a series called Dragon Child, which might have been written to demonstrate how the Beast Quest idea works just as well with a girl in the main role.

Tia has been brought up by dragons but can just remember being kidnapped from her human father while her mother was away. And she fears that her mother might be one of the six High Witches, sisters in magic, who have stolen a necklace with supernatural powers from the DragonQueen. Goaded by jeers from a young dragonet, Tia sets out to retrieve the jewels and prove she is a true DragonChild.

Each book will follow the adventures of Tia and her foster-brother, the dragon Finn, as they steal back each of the jewels. The emerald gives the power  of understanding animal language and is in the clutches of terrifying with Malindra, who is a cross between Cruella de Ville and the three witches in Neil Gaiman's Stardust.

There are some genuinely scary and throat-parching moments along the way and Tia doesn't get her way easily but she is a very engaging new role model for any girl tired of soppy princesses.

So is Rhianna Pendragon, who has reached the second book in Katherine Roberts' Pendragon Quartet, The Lance of Truth. Rhianna, who is King Arthur's daughter, also has magical objects to collect: she won Excalibur in The Sword of Light and is now fiercely determined to gain the next  totemic item. Like Tia, Rhianna has a male companion to go with her on her quest, making sure that the books are equally enticing for male readers. Rhianna's is an Elvish prince and they both ride mist-horses, who are the author's invention.

The kind of witchcraft Rhianna Pendragon has to battle is even darker - that of Morgan le Fay, who is supposed to be dead, and her ingeniously evil son Mordred. In this book Rhianna is reunited with her mother, Guinevere, but the Queen is somewhat disappointed in her daughter. She would prefer the kind of princess who is more interested in beautiful dresses than in swords and horses.

Well, Guinevere, I can't agree. I like Rhianna and Tia just as they are. Long live the adventurous girls - who are certainly not made of "sugar and spice and all things nice."