As the full moon calls, each cat slinks through the shadows to where the storyteller waits.
Will you saty in your cosy bed? Or dare you go and join the Scaredy Cats and hear the tale of Bluebeard’s Cat and her master’s nasty, creepy secret! Watch and listen as Shoo reads this gruesome story. Are you prepared?
When you are finished,maybe you’d like to watch and learn how to Draw Bluebeard’s Cat in the video below:
Authors, travelling around schools, see stuff – stuff that inspectors would never see or even bother to look for, because inspectors are looking for what they want to see.
I keep seeing the Green, Amber and Red colours of testing software printouts. This software works out where to put the most resources to achieve the best test results. That sounds like a reasonable proposition, but in truth it confirms that the current education system is structurally designed to promote failure. Test results are all that matter. The education and-life chances of the children in the system come second. The “customer” – the child being educated – has been taken out of the equation.
If your child is in the green area then you are doing the right thing. You are helping them with homework, encouraging them to read and providing them with a full and diverse cultural feed. They will learn to read despite being at school.
If your child is in the amber areas, then it is worthwhile for the school to put effort into raising your child’s reading levels one or two grades. You can do this easily at home by reading to them in bed every night and showing some interest in their homework and schooling. The school can feel confident that if they invest time and resources in this group, they will bring their overall target levels up. The education system has such a distorted view, nothing else matters but the levels.
If your child is in the red area, you probably don’t care, and neither do the school. They know that it will take a huge effort to raise these children up just one grade, that will not have any effect on the school’s overall performance. These are the children that are doomed to illiteracy – they will cost the country a fortune over their lifetimes in social and medical care, prison and welfare. But that does not matter because because meeting reading level targets are more important.
The chances are that red area children have no books at home. The amber area children may have up to ten. The green area children could have over 200!
Before arriving at school, green children can have heard over 30 million more words spoken than a child in the red area, who may never have sung a nursery rhyme at home, had a book read to them at bedtime, used a knife or fork and my well have not learned to use the toilet.
Children’s centres were supposed to help with early years intervention. But children have to leave the centres to go to school and start learning to read. If the stats say it’s not worth schools bothering with children who need too much time spent on them, then it’s not worth spending the time on them.
The recent report of Britain’s failing literacy standards bears all this out. After 14 years of the Literacy Strategy and the National Curriculum someone needs to hang their head in shame and admit they got it all wrong. After 14 years, literacy should be at 99% of all school leavers.
So where has it gone wrong? Literacy has been redefined as the ability to decode text. That is not literacy – that is a boring, wet, grey, Wednesday afternoon lesson. Literacy is the ability to read. How have we forgotten that?
Reading is the one core skill. Without being able to read, forget about writing and “‘rithmetic”. No child should ever be allowed to fall behind in reading skills. That should be the core statement of education. If children can’t read, don’t progress them onto subjects they don’t have a cat in hell’s chance of understanding.
And how do we promote reading? The cryingly, simple, obvious solution is to read books! Hundred’s of them and if children don’t hear books read to them at home, they need to hear them read in school. Thanks to targets, there is no time for telling stories in school anymore. The key to reading is not phonetics or any other fashionable system, the key is story.
Human beings are hard-wired to listen to an learn from stories. Politicians know this – they tell enough of them. Advertisers know this – story is their trade. Religions know this – Faith is just the believing of a great story. So why has education forgotten and ignored the very keystone on which it is built?
It is story that draws the child closer and closer to the text, they marvel that those squiggly marks make up words that mean something, words that tell fantastic tales and explain fantastic concepts. Once the connection is made, nothing will stop a child wanting to learn to read so they can do that amazing, magic trick themselves.
Teacher education is such that a whole new generation has been taught nothing about children’s books or how to read them to their children. How are we going to convert them back to story-time?
Learning to read is the hardest job anyone will ever do in their entire lives. To condemn a child to the red area is to write them off, to mark them out as the detritus of society.
How many times have I heard teachers say, “But what can I do? Targets have to be met.” Forget about striking over pensions – we’re all in the same boat there, so teacher’s won’t get any sympathy from the public over that, but how about striking for the right to teach?
And how about hauling parents in and reminding them that they have responsibilities too? School is not a child-minding service, it’s a partnership of Family, Child and School – giving the child the best opportunities in life and preparing them to make the most of their talents so they can contribute to society. When did we ever stop wanting better for our children? What happened that all responsibility has been outsourced to over-stretched schools?
The real test of education is the number of happy, fulfilled adults that have benefitted from their time at school. The target should be adults that behave, that understand the difference between right and wrong, that have the confidence to rely on their own resources, that contribute to life and society, adults who cherish the next generation and help them on their way in the hope that they will help in return when we get older.
The education system that does not work for its “customer’s” best interests is broken and those in charge of setting the targets are as guilty as the red area children will be, when they grow up and appear before the magistrates in the dock.
A little while ago, I was contacted by Dan Morrow, who asked me to look over a picture book idea he and his brother, Derek had been working on. He said I should be honest. I felt the story needed a bit of editing and tightening up and made some suggestions. I never heard back from him!
Just as I was starting to think, maybe I’d suggested too much and had maybe upset Dan, I received another email from him. He’d revised the story, and now they were going to make an animated movie – Would I possibly record the narration, voice-over soundtrack? How could I say no to such a determined young man?
Last night, I was wondering wether they would actually make the movie when, ping! – an email arrived saying is was done! Comet – The Movie – was live on YouTube!
I think it’s rather fabulous. If you know anything about animation, you will appreciate how much work has gone into the making of this little movie. Please go and have a look, click the like button, subscribe to Dan’s channel and leave a message too. I think you may be witnessing the beginning of a very successful animation career from a very determined partnership – and you will be able to say say, “Oh, yeah, I’ve been following them from the start!”
I’m really pleased with Map Pad. Writing stories for early stage phonics books is a bit like playing a game of Sudoku. You let the letters you are allowed to use swim about in front of you,until they coalesce into groups of words that can be connected in some way. With luck, and a bit of perspicacity, in an interesting and entertaining way too.
Map Pad is written with only the letters S-A-T-P-I-N-M-D. I was only allowed to use three-lettered words plus four-lettered words with an S on the end.
I recently had an email complaining that I’d used slang in a phonics book – I’d used the word till instead of until. Apart from the fact that till is the older, and original word, which means that until could be thought of as the slang version. Anyway, I didn’t have the letter U available to me when writing. I thought I’d been really clever!
I love my simple books for the Big Cat series. When I write them I remember what it was like, all those years ago, being bored to death with Janet and John and then LOOK!- as my children began learning to read. I really try hard to entertain and make these little stories fun. Learning to read is hard enough without having to read boring stories too!
You can get you copy from Amazon here:
I’ve just finished writing a story for my new publishers, Firefly Press. The story has a dragon at the heart of it, so now I have to draw the cover of the book and I’ve had to start thinking about the illustrations inside too.
I started doodling dragons to get in the mood, and soon realised what it is I find difficult about drawing them. It’s the wings!
If dragons are of this world, they must have evolved from a common ancestor to lizards or Komodo dragons of today. But their wings will not work the same way as a bird or a bat, whose wings are their arms or front legs. In the case of the bat the skin is stretched between it’s very long fingers.
So how do the wings work on a four legged dragon? They already have front legs so the wings must have evolved from something different entirely, or they are from a different world altogether?
I was watching a TV programme last night, charting the rise of punk. While fascinating, it talked about some stuff that did not concern me at the time. It suggested that the punk roots were in pub rock and bands like Brinsley Schwarz and Dux Deluxe. They held no interest for me at the time.
Punk was certainly a reaction to the pomp rockers like Yes, but then I loved Yes at the time. I remember being fascinated by all sorts of music back then. Playing and listening to music was pretty much my life. Top of the Pops was a weekly cultural watering hole – a sort of pop music soap opera that has now been formalised into X Factor and the tabloid newspapers. I never knew who bought all those singles, but they were the stuff that got played in discos where the girls were to be found on a Saturday night. I never understood why the DJs never played my requests. (They’d probably never heard of them!)
I discovered the Wailers by accident when I was about thirteen and that early 60′s Ska sound really got inside me. When I began playing guitar, I did everything I could to get the treble up high and make a nasty, raspy chang-ing sound, dampening the bridge to get a better, clicky attack to the notes. One of my very first songs was called The Mombassa Express – a tribute to the Wailers, Last Train to Skaville. Mombassa was the holiday place for the British Army in Aden in the 60s. We flew out there on an old RAF Argosy transport plane for a fabulous two week holiday in the 1965. I could still remember the infectious African music we heard, that would not get to the UK for another 10 years or so with bands like Osibissa.
Then I somehow got a Bo Diddly album when I was about 16. I learned last night he’d been here about the same time at a big rock revival gig in Wembley. If only I had known! That Bo Diddly-diddly-dee rhythm got me going – and I found his lyrics quite shocking! He really was a punk!
Then there was all the political rubbish going on around us. I didn’t know at the time, but my father was dying. He was planning for the revolution. He was actually asked to join a group of ex-army officers who were preparing to take over the country when the flag went up. We had stocks of food in the cellar which he religiously dated and rotaed so they wer always fresh. The lights were going out everywhere. There was a three day working week, the tv finished at 10.00pm, 50 was the top speed limit, everything was going short on the shelves, the reds were under the beds, the Russians were going to be here for tea at any day, if they hadn’t blown us off the map. We were ripe for change. Top of the Tops was just there to cheer us up with a bit of glam rock on Thursday evenings and make us look the other way for a moment.
Looking back I can see that there really wasn’t much future for my age group.The British Empire had collapsed. Our older brothers and sisters had had a lot of fun in the sixties and promised us a revolution. All thy had done was to start pulling up the ladders behind them. Now they’d got their peace and love, they were going to hang on to it and not let anyone else have a piece. That generation has never changed.
So I started writing angry songs in my bedroom. I knew the world needed shaking up. I wrote a manifesto. I called it Ug Rock. Ug for ugly. Ug for stone-age grunting, because that’s how basic I wanted it to be. Basic Rhythms. I even got the artwork right, photocopied ransom-note style!
Then I heard the German band Neu, not mentioned at all in last night’s program. There was the sound! Michael Rother invented that thrash guitar sound – and that wonderful monotonous beat, the forerunner to all modern dance music. Neu had all the ingredients, all that was required was the political anger, the sense of it being a time for revolution. I was there, I was ready, I raised my Ug Rock standard… and no one followed! Timing is everything.
When the Sex Pistols finally came along I felt I’d kind of done it already. I joined in the fun though and got rid of my flares and changed my style overnight.
Over the years I’ve come to understand that ideas float around in the air, waiting for the right person to work with. I wonder how many other angry young men and women had similar ideas as I did and those who eventually became Punk Rock stars. I suppose I was just too flighty, the idea moved on. They stuck to their principles and persisted with the one idea. Those who survived are often to be found still doing it today stuck in a 1977 time warp.
I left school and went to work in a print shop where I designed posters for a reggae promoter. Bedford, where I lived had a large west indian community, so reggae was to be heard around the place. I remember making him laugh when I said I was going to play white reggae – “White boys can’t play reggae!” he told me, and then, a couple of years later along came The Police… Duh, I’d missed it again!
But I look back on that summer of punk with fondness. The energy that was flowing was amazing. I hope the kids these days have something similar to fire them, but from where I look, life is all a bit homogenised now. Health and safety wouldn’t put up with it any more. All those hot, sweaty bodies packed into fire hazard venues. I guess that’s what Bungee jumping and extreme sports are all about – trying to get back to that visceral, animal adrenaline that was punk and rock and roll before it. A feeling that maybe you are doing something to change the world.
I rarely pick up my guitar these days, but I still feel like I need to light a fuse and shake things up a bit… Set a fire under the old order.
Then a wicked little thought enters my brain. Publishing has just reached the point that the record business did back in 1977, when you could make your own records and start up your own label and photocopy your own fanzines… do all those things you’d been told you couldn’t do because the corporations need to tread a politically correct line and an not upset their mass customers. Punk was about getting marketing to a niche market.
I think it’s kind of happening in the comics world, but could it be time to start making politically incorrect children’s books, unhindered by corporate editorial committees?!
And as for the art world… well, that certainly needs a rocket up it’s bloated, self-satisfied backside!
I visited Malmesbury in Wiltshire today and told stories in the Town Hall as part of the carnival and The Summer Reading Challenge. I had a great time and everyone did fantastic drawings of the Pizza Man.
I was very taken by the Norman Abbey, which had the most fabulous carved Doorway entrance, which has succumbed quite a bit by the ravages of time.It looks like there are a lot of bible stories and historical stories carved on there. It seem the King Athelstan, the Grandson of one of my heroes, Alfred the Great, is buried there. Alfred fought off the Vikings to establish the first instantiation of England. Athelstan fought them back and united the country to become what we call England to day, so we can say he was the first King of all England, but I would say that Alfred the Great was the the first true King of the English.
Malmesbury is a very pretty and very old town that seems to be built on a bit of a hill that must have originally been chosen for its defensive properties. Well worth a visit if you are n the area.
I recently wrote a post about the Carnegie Medal that caused a bit of a stir in the tiny world of children’s authors. I learned many things from the reactions to that post; mainly that I should only make one point at a time, as readers are liable to choose a sentence or two that suits their prejudices and assume the whole article is about something other that what was intended.
I was amazed at the reaction to this paragraph:
Why are we no longer surprised when kids join gangs and shoot each other on the streets? They’re conditioned to it by playing killing games on their consoles and watching endless serial killer stuff on TV. So why not put it in children’s books too? How else are publishers going to compete and make a buck other than by joining in the slow moral decline? We are conditioning ourselves to accept that it’s okay for kids to kill each other.
What I meant, in the context of the article, was that as children’s publishers find it harder to sell books, they are having to chuck in the towel and join the rest of the media, giving into violence, to be able to compete. Violence sells.
So does sex, but… stick to my point! I had a lot of vociferous reaction claiming that there is no connection between books, video games, movies or comics with violence. That I’m an old reactionary wanting to spoil teenager’s fun. (I thought was writing about books for children – not teenagers – never mind.)
I had to think about that point for a while and here is my reply.
Five million jews, gypsies and unfortunates were cremated during the second world war. How did that happen? A man called Hitler wrote a book called Mein Kampf. Don’t tell me that book had no effect on violence. Where did Hitler get his ideas from? Wagner’s fairy tales, and the eugenic writings of revered writers of the likes of My Fair Lady’s George Bernard Shaw and The War of the World’s H G Wells. Each generation makes the unthinkable acceptable and then practicable.
Many more millions were murdered in the USSR thanks to Karl Marx’s Das Kapital. And how many more millions died thanks to Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book? Please don’t tell me books don’t have an effect on violence.
How many millions have died because of or in the cause of the Bible or the Koran?
Human beings are hard wired to receive stories. That is how we learn. Religions, encouraging distrust in the unfaithful, know this. Advertisers, telling us that the latest gadget will make us look cool and sexy, know this. Politicians, spinning their yarns, know this. They also know that the statistics can be massaged to tell whatever story they like – as in, “…there is no correlation between books and violence.”
Violence sells… but only for so long. We come to accept a certain level of violence then we need more – we are only human. So the level is turned up until we come to accept that too.
Take the TV show Silent Witness which, when it started, was all about the righting of wrongs and moral dilemmas. In the morgue, we would see close-ups of the doctor’s eyes and sweating brow as they went about their grizzly work. It was fascinating, instructive and the story lines were intriguing. We might have seen a toe with a cadaver’s identifying label, but generally the body was covered in a sheet.
Then the special effects department came up with realistic rubber bodies and they let us see the whole grizzly autopsy, with everything hanging out and bits dangling on the floor. That wasn’t enough, CSI began with gory CGI effects and Gore Wars ensued. The original Silent Witness stories began with a body – as does the work of the pathologist. Now the grizzly death scene had to be included – in minute detail.
That wasn’t enough, the un-witting pathologists became the victims as the serial killer genre swung into action, leading to the ultimate in the ramping up of CSI violence – or is it moral decline? – the TV series, Dexter. Dexter works for a CSI department as a blood-spatter analyst, he is also a serial-killer himself, but he’s okay, he only murders other serial killers – what fun! You’d be amazed how often I’ve heard primary school children say they want to be CSIs when they grow up! Why are they watching this stuff? Why aren’t they in bed?
The violence levels are slowly ratcheted up as we accept new levels of violence and come to see them as entertainment. This has all been echoed in the book world with Patrica Cornwell leading the field that was very soon filled with new writers eager to get on the bandwagon.
How incredible that ITN proudly splatters the word “Exclusive” all over pictures of bloody-handed Michael Adebolajo, minutes after he had killed Private Lee Rigby on the streets of Woolwich. ITN know the power of a good story in a crowded news market. But just a very few years ago, they would never have considered showing those pictures. We have not only got used to seeing pictures like that and accepting the violence, we want more, preferably on the six-o”clock news! (They didn’t even wait until after the 9.00pm watershed.)
Just this week, video of the Santiago De Compostela train crash was shown in slow-motion on the BBC News. They did warn that it was upsetting, but they still showed it. They had the footage, it was already on YouTube so they had to show it. Five years ago, if they had that footage, they would not have shown it. Next week we will want more… bored with train crashes.
Oh – let’s stray off the point and get back to sex – Fifty Shades of Grey – to be precise. A book promoting both violence in sex has it’s own merchandise in Greetings cards shops! Cute, furry handcuffs on a greetings card for valentines day? what kind of violence has that inspired and made acceptable in bedrooms round the world. It’s a best-seller so sadistic, violent sex must be okay – isn’t it?
It’s not the books, video games, movies or comics that are to blame. They are inert. It’s the stories and their messages that are dangerous, they always have been and always will be.
Please don’t tell me that there is no correlation between books, and the stories they contain, and violence. Those committing the violence maybe well be illiterate but they understand stories they are told and can perfectly understand the message that they are fed. Those teaching them, leading them and putting ideas in their heads are clever and highly literate, and there is your direct correlation.