Friday, 31 March 2017

International Children's Book Day 2017

I was in Meath recently for International Children's Book Day. ICBD is celebrated on or around April 2, which is the birthday of Hans Christian Andersen and it's the occasion to celebrate international children's books and stories. IBBY (the International Board on Books for Young People) is the organisation behind it, and it crops up the world over at the initiative of the local branches of IBBY (IBBY Ireland in our case), libraries, schools or arts centres.
Thus I went off with the lovely plan to present a book published in English, relating the story of an Armenian folklore hero and written by a French author. It doesn't get much more international than Disaster David!
Now, as with all lovely plans, some adjustments (ie big improv) had to be made.
(1) I had to go to Meath twice that morning, courtesy of the bus strike: the first time I nearly went on the bus (there was no bus); the second time, I rushed home from BusarĂ¡s and drove.
(2) the first group I met in Navan expected to hear about Mad Cap. As they hadn't had a chance to read the book yet, there was no disappointment, it just meant that the Q&A at the end was a bit disconnected from the rest of the session.
No matter, we had fun thinking giant thoughts and wondering how different the world would be if we woke up as huge versions of ourselves. The brainstorming was lively and surprising, and the kids' drawing skills proved most impressive.
I was delighted to restore one participant's faith in grown-ups when I turned out to be the first adult she had ever met who knew about manga.
Onwards and forwards, I took to the road again, to Trim this time, where Surprise Number (3) awaited me: 25 ladies from 5th Class instead of the 3rd Class we were expecting. I had a feeling a picturebook (even such a Magnificent and Sophisticated one as Disaster David) wasn't going to work for this audience, so I went into Mad Cap gear and we had a hoot of a session with plenty of shouting and imagining and drawing (kids can seriously draw in Meath!) and writing about super-heroes and equally-super-villains. The Q&A this time strayed into Book Doctor territory which was also great fun. (If you missed my book recommendations, I'm listing them again below, ladies).
So a great day all in all, and a great reassurance that, yes, I can improvise if needs must!
Plus, I got to meet a young song writer who's in with a chance to write the song for the Irish contestant in the Junior Eurovision. How cool is that?
Thanks to everyone for having me and looking after me!

Book recommendations:
Who Let the Gods Out by Maz Evans: for fans of Greek mythology and running around the Underworld
The Thin Executioner by Darren Shan: a stand-alone novel with plenty of action and gore; his best book in my humble opinion
The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin: a sad-and-funny story for fans of Jacqueline Wilson

That's it, as far as I can remember!
For those who wanted to know more about Book Doctors and Book Clinics, it's over here: and here for the upcoming dates:

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Writing, rewriting, giants and babies

Chris Haughton's starry night in Goodnight Everyone gets the Baby Bookclub treatment
I've been busy with the Patron of Reading thing lately and it has been a hoot. The baby book club is proving a riot every time and it seems that everyone involved is really enjoying it: babas, toddlers and grown-ups. It is very rewarding to see people coming back and asking for more; even more rewarding to see the little ones rush over to the mats and wait excitedly for the story to begin. And what to say about the preschoolers who bring in their favourite books to show the rest of the group (unprompted) or the stories of terrible-twos who had no time for story-time and who now will grab their grown-up and demand a book be read to them? All of these milestones in the life of a young reader I am totally claiming as a benefit of Baby Book Club. Totally and totally shamelessly. Ahem...
First Class are giants today
I've also been busy trying out new material on my very willing guinea pigs (sorry, kids): doing a poetry workshop with Second Class (of all things!) and, especially, bringing out Disaster David to various school visits.
He has proved a very likeable hero and we've had great fun reading about his antics and creating some new ones for him.
An interesting aspect of this for me has been rewriting the text for a younger audience (of infants classes). A simplified version, with a bit less poetic imagery but a stronger purpose. Which has me wondering why I didn't write it like this in the first place? Writing simply has always been an issue for me; that is one of the reasons I started writing in English, thinking I wouldn't be able to indulge in fancy language as much in a foreign tongue. It worked for Beckett, but I'm not sure it has for me! (The other reason for writing in English was to stop sneaking in heaps of internal rhyming as I do in French; this has been a lot more successful as I can't seem to rhyme in English.)
After-school writing club has been good fun too, with highs and lows, as in everything. It always amazes me how much talent there is going round and how different the creative sensibilities.

Taking our chances

More writing club madness over the last two weeks. We had great fun discovering the role of chance in creativity with games such as Chinese Whispers and Exquisite Corpse. We also looked at how constraints could force the creative juices to flow when each writer was given a random beginning to work from and an ending to work towards.
 And we also looked at how to use our everyday reality as material for an adventure or a mystery. For this, we drew maps of our surroundings (the school, the classroom, the table we were sitting at) which we then transformed by adding and changing elements on a sheet of tracing paper: exit the secretary's office, welcome to the unicorn stables! the dragon pens! the secret passages!
Well done all!

Monday, 27 March 2017


I was in Room 2 recently telling the story of Disaster David and chatting with the Junior Infants about giants, disasters and animals. We had a great time creating our very own book and we hope you'll pop in to have a look at it in the class library!

Friday, 24 March 2017

Goodnight Everyone first thing in the morning

We had a brilliant time at Baby Book Club this week. We read Chris Haughton's Goodnight Everyone and practised loads of stretching and yawning and snoring. If after that the babies weren't ready for their morning nap, we must have done something wrong...
The babies really joined in the reading, turning pages, making sound effects and wishing all the animals goodnight.
Inspired by Chris's art we then created our very own starry night using black paper, white and purple paint, bubble wrap and GLITTER.

As always, here are a few links to some tips, videos and songs about bears and bedtime.

Freddy Bear The Teddy Bear

Hush Little Baby by The Bluegrass Babies

Elvis Presley - Teddy Bear

Goldilocks and the Three Bears - Debbie and Friends
Or try Rockabye Baby for lullaby renditions of heaps of rock hits!

And finally, Bedtime and book-related tips from the RTE Jr Book Club:

Good luck everyone!

Monday, 20 March 2017

Penguins galore!

Last week at Baby Book Club it was all about penguins and more specifically Polly Dunbar's Penguin. Everyone was fascinated by the story of a boy who receives a present of a penguin and tries his hardest to make him laugh, play, talk... 'but Penguin said nothing'. The babies enjoyed describing what was going on in the pictures and joining in with the repetitive text.
We then had fun with glue and cotton wool and made our very own penguins, who may or may not be more talkative than the original one.

As promised, here are the links to the songs and videos, for more penguin-mania!

Do The Funky Penguin by Rufus Thomas -

Fairy Penguin Strut by Don Spencer -

Your Personal Penguin by Sandra Boynton and Davy Jones (song and slideshow of the book!)

Penguins ice-skating, clip from a BBC documentary

Lost and Found, a 24-minute animated adaptation of Oliver Jeffers’ best-selling picturebook:

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Travelling by imagination

In Week 2 of the Writing Club for 3rd and 4th, we took a look at a crazy poem by Michael Rosen called 'Orange':
I'm stuck in an orange.
I can't get out.
It's really orange in here,
And wet.

We wondered if it made sense or not, and even though we agreed it was bananas (ha ha), we could still picture it in our heads and it made a kind of sense. We then had a chat about how we could make people who had never seen an orange (the same way that we had never seen a person stuck in one) get what an orange is like. For that we used our 5 senses and tried to describe precisely this fleshy, juicy, spotty, peely, acidic fruit.
That led us to write some fun riddles about other things, from dogs to snakes to pencil cases, before moving on to our ongoing project of a 'travel journal'.

After travelling by memory last week, we used our imaginations this time to get us to weird and wonderful places: Singing Street, Wifi Land, Sugar Land, and lots more. We thought about the people who lived there, the rules they lived under, the food they ate, what they saw from their window, what the weather was like and so on. Our five senses came in handy once again to make these invented places feel 'real'.
We even started writing postcards from over there, but time ran away with us...
See you all next week for more writing explorations!

Friday, 10 March 2017

World Book Day!

Last week, there was a lot of bookish activity in SMGS for World Book Day: a very successful book swap, trips to bookshops and librairies, the works!
To add to the general excitement, I did three class visits on Thursday to chat about books, have some interactive story time and create our own masterpieces.
First up were the Junior Infants. We read the story of a young giant called David who is forever breaking things because he is too strong, too big... too giant! So much so that people call him Disaster David. The Junior Infants were brilliant listeners and great predictors of what might happen next. After that, we created our very own sequel to David's adventure, The King's Book: there was some awesome drawing and writing, that we gathered into a collective book. The book is now bound and ready to be borrowed in the class library!
Up with 2nd class, we went for something different and looked at how my book In Search of Happiness came into being. That brought us to chat about all the many things that made us happy and we used them to write a collective list poem. You can read it here as it came out: pretty good for a first draft, wouldn't you say? Second Class was fantastic at coming up with striking images and sharing their feelings. They even brought in a few sneaky rhymes!
The day ended with a visit to First Class who also discovered Disaster David's adventures. This had them thinking about what it would feel like to wake up... as a giant. There was some brilliant problem solving and great imagination on display once again. After a fun brainstorming, each took pen to paper to draw themselves as a giant and to write about that very strange morning...

Thank you all for a brilliant day!

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Writing club is back!

This time the group is made up of a dozen of 3rd and 4th class writers. In our first session, we let ourselves be inspired by various illustrations from magazines and books. Even in only a few minutes, the ideas came gushing out and the style and interest of each writer started showing.

There were some brilliant mind maps, folk tales and adventure stories being sketched and fleshed out. While we were at it, we had conversations about the difficulty of making choices when you are plotting or writing a story. Something all present could relate to!

We then moved on to our long-term project of putting together a travel journal. As we're not going to go anywhere in the next few weeks, we're going to have to use other means of transportation than planes and boats and hot air balloons.

This week, we travelled by memory and tried to remember everything about a great trip (near or far) we had taken in the past. Using drawing and writing, we made a great start on our 'journals' and once again each author's voice shone even in those early stages.
See you all next week!