On the road
Bookwagon has been on the road, supporting school visits by three exceptional, award-winning writers this week. Unusually, I had the opportunity to listen in and participate. School visits by writers are a unique opportunity to learn about ourselves, our world and possibilities beyond the possible.
Mr Bookwagon read The Bubble Boy by Stewart Foster, last year. Some subscribers know Mr Bookwagon. He is a rather unemotional fellow, even on match day. This wonderful children’s book captivated him. He explained the plot, considered the characters’ relationship and the abilities of the writer to engage him completely.
Stewart Foster didn’t stand a chance. When All the Things that Could Go Wrong was published, I was determined to read it ahead of Mr Bookwagon. This title made me cry, worry about the boys, feel like I wanted to phone their mothers, step into the playground, protect Alex… It is raw and wise and wonderful.
A school visit
Last year, we worked with Stewart Foster. Bookwagon is committed to supporting school visits by writers. James Campbell, The Funny Life of Teachers, Lisa Thompson, The Day I Was Erased and Mark Huckerby and Nick Ostler Defender of the Realm. were booked for this proud event, too. Workshops by this group of superb children’s literature creators informed and delighted.
A close friend, inspired Stewart to create Alex, one of his two main characters in ‘All the Things that Could Go Wrong’. Stewart talked gently about bullying to the pupils. Somehow discussing the book’s themes, emphasised them in a more intimate and meaningful way.
This week, Stewart led creative writing workshops in two schools in Hampshire and Surrey. I participated in the first. We imagined ourselves alone and unexplained in an unknown outpost, aware of something approaching… Stewart coaxed our stories. He read and listened, sharing his own writing experiences along the way. He attended to detail and pace and offered guidance as to how, when we read our writing back, fluency is a key to it ‘working’.
I read ‘Check Mates’, Stewarts’ forthcoming title, within 24 hours. Chess and the Berlin Wall? ADHD, financial pressures, discovering a self-confidence… so many themes within a relevant, empathetic story.
Emma Carroll is one of Britain’s favourite writers. She is also one of children’s literature’s favourite writers. Emma wears the crown of ‘Queen of Children’s Historical Literature’. Yet she is so much more than this.
While her stories from Frost Hollow Hall to When We Were Warriors include historical settings and themes, she offers a fresh, considered perspective. What happens to Eddie Jordan from ‘When We Were Warriors‘.? I love the comparable circumstances, despite a century’s distance, of Flo and Alice in In Darkling Wood. How can they be so similar, yet so different?
Learning while eavesdropping
Listening to Emma talk to children as she signed books, I heard, ‘Do you write stories? I thought so. I loved your ideas.’ And, ‘You asked some really interesting questions. Are you a reader? What stories do you like particularly?’ She attended to each child’s names, questions and observations, patiently and personally. Imagine the possibilities opened in these children through this feedback! School visits by writers and picture book makers offer immeasurable value!
A little learning and a lot of skill
Emma Carroll reads devotedly. The world and words engage her. Her writing is urgent, direct and accessible and so beautifully crafted. Reading her books is a joy, and working with her is a privilege.
She explained that when she opens a creative working workshop, she might suggest, ‘There’s something hanging on the gate. What is it?‘ More often than not, fledgling writers will opt for something expected- a body. Yet, through choosing something that leaves questions, e.g., a key, there are opportunities to hold a reader’s attention. We need to know more.
Emma leads creative writing workshops for children in schools, and adults through the Arvon Foundation. School visits by writers like Emma offer a ‘key’ of possibilities for readers and creators of all ages! .
Drawn to drawing
I explained my discovery of the wonderful works of Martin Brown in my most recent blog:- We read every book we sell. When we were the fortunate bookseller for a school visit recently, he opined about a lack of opportunity for children to learn drawing skills. He considered how we learn and practise other skills, from football to piano playing. Yet, somehow, we expect to know how to draw innately.
Martin Brown showed his school audience how he created the wonderful animals in his books Lesser Spotted Animals and Lesser Spotted Animals 2. His training and experience, from illustrator of ‘Horrible Histories’ to his own award-winning titles awed his audience. As they queued to have their new books signed, they asked questions about his research, how to arrange pages, create eye appeal. School visits by writers and picture book makers expands knowledge, respect and understanding.
Ahead of the visit
Bookwagon sends preview copies ahead of school visits by writers and picture book makers. We hope staff and children might become familiar with their visitor and their works. Possibly because of time constraints and pressures we discover these books have not been shared or read, unfortunately.
Bookwagon creates information about the writers whom we might support on school visits. We research a literary biography and include descriptions about each available title that that might be purchased by students and school.We create posters to be displayed and distributed.
The visit itself
Sometimes, when we visit the school alongside the writer, none of that information is visible.
On one occasion Bookwagon agreed to supply a book sale to accompany an author school visit. We created and distributed information. The writer planned his workshops. We all travelled many miles to attend. We were staggered to discover other book sales of used books and a visiting book fair. Further the writer gave his workshops while drama rehearsals continued simultaneously in the same venue. How could this realise the incomparable opportunity of a school visit by a writer or picture book maker?
Bookwagon supports school visits by writers and picture book makers by seeking fair payment for their professional hard work. Their books are often not as well known as those of writers whose works are in supermarkets, or stocked in huge numbers at chain bookstores and online giants. These are ‘forever’ books.
A reading school
Bookwagon completed our preparations in our support of a visit to a Suffolk school by award-winning picture book maker Dave Shelton. Truthfully, we did not expect to sell too many books, despite the fact his books delight us. A Boy and a Bear in a Boat and Emily Lime- Librarian Detective: The Book Case are original, enigmatic and fascinating works.
Yet, when we rolled our wagon into the foyer of this school, we spotted our posters. Then we were asked if we had brought enough books. Mr Bookwagon and I considered we’d brought too many; we were looking forward to a week of popup book fairs, where we know these titles will be popular.
This school surpassed our expectations. Staff had read the books themselves, and to their pupils. Our information was on display and had been distributed. Throughout their experience the children were involved, engaged and excited.
Further, children, staff and families realised the value of having their own signed copy of an original Dave Shelton book. We sold out of books. Late last night Mr Bookwagon and I continued to amass orders that children with specially signed bookplates might paste these into their very own book.
To participate in Dave Shelton’s drawing workshop with Year 6 was ‘icing on the cake’ for Mr Bookwagon and me. Dave asked us his audience to create a double- act as he had in his outstanding Good Dog Bad Dog The Golden Bone of Alexandria. (Mr Bookwagon created Space Giraffe and Space Pig. I created Fluff Cat and Slinky Puss.)
Dave Shelton stepped amongst his budding artists, offering tips, guiding and encouraging. He shared a range of wonderful characters these children imagined at the conclusion. His audience was captivated.
School visits by writers and picture book makers are an essential part of education.
As I bade Emma Carroll farewell at the train station this week, I considered that being in her company, the company of children’s writers whom we read, love and sell, is like ‘being with Clooney.’ To think Bookwagon has the opportunity to share writers and picture book makers’ company and creations in schools is a privilege and responsibility.