London Storytelling Events for May Half Term

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Looking for ideas to keep the kids out of trouble this May half term? I thought I’d sneak in an extra blog this week to pull together some suggestions of exciting storytelling events (in no particular order) for those of you in and around London.

Paper Performances: Museum of London, Docklands

Monday 25th May 2015 – a free drop in session to design your own paper theatre to bring your stories to life.

Blown Away by Rob Biddulph: Discover Children’s Story Centre, Stratford

Saturday 30th May 2015 – An author, illustrator and book signing event from the winner of the Waterstones 2015 Children’s Book Prize.

Fulham Palace Fun Day: Fulham Palace SW6

Wednesday 29th May 2015 – Family drama, storytelling and dress up sessions.

A World of Stories: Horniman Museum & Gardens, Forest Hill, SE23

Every Sunday now until 31st May 2015 – interactive story session inspired by their exhibitions. Age 5+

Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs: Southbank Centre, SE1

Wednesday 27th May and Thursday 28th May 2015 – An adaptation of the award winning book by Giles Andreae and Russell Ayto.

Sam’s Pet Temper: Paddington Library, Westminster

Thursday 28th May 2015 – Canadian author, Sangeeta Bhadra tells the story of Sam’s Pet Temper followed by a craft session for 3-10 year olds.

Adventures in Wonderland: The Vaults, Waterloo

Permanent venue – step into Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland and experience it for yourself! Ages 5+

The One Dollar Horse, Shaping Stories: The National Gallery, Trafalgar Square

Saturday 23rd May 2015 – Meet Lauren St John, children’s author of The One Dollar Horse and create your own horse-inspired tales.

The Alice Look: V & A Museum of Childhood, E2

From now until 1 November 2015 – an exhibition of rare editions to inspired fashions showing how Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland has changed, adapted and influenced many trends throughout the world.

Greenwich Book Festival: University of Greenwich, SE10

Friday 22nd May – Sunday 24th May 2015 – Many events, workshops and activities from designing your own book cover with artist Alexandra Antenopolou, meeting the award-winning children’s illustrator Axel Scheffler or Steven Butler with Dennis the Menace to a puppet adaptation of Polly Dunbar’s book Flyaway Kate. Plus so much more so follow the link above!

The Paper Dolls: Little Angel Theatre, N1

From now until Sunday 28th June 2015 – a performance based on the book written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Rebecca Cobb and the Paper Dolls Crafty Day on Friday 29th May.

Roald Dahl’s The Twits: Royal Court Theatre, Sloane Square

From now until Sunday 31st May 2015 – Theatrical performance of The Twits followed by a free storytelling workshop for 8-11 year olds.

There’s some great events there so let me know how you get on.

The Funny Thing About Words

Alice quote

Lewis Carroll’s topsy–turvy chatter can tie us all up in knots with his twisted reality but it does demonstrate that words are not our reality, they are merely a tool for labelling what we experience and feel is our reality.

There are no words in this world which have meaning until we give them meaning. Have you ever tried to listen to a foreign language being spoken on a train for instance? At first it merely sounds like incomprehensible gobbledegook, comprising one never-ending word! Yet the more intently we listen, the more snippets of meaning start to emerge as our brains desperately try to make sense of it all. We start to hear pauses and breaks in the delivery which make it sound more manageable and we hear intonation which gives it expression. It is not until we are sat down and taught to associate its words with our surroundings that we give the words meaning and the nonsense fades away.

When I’m creating stories for picture books, one of my aims is to inject humour into them. It is important to me to deliver each story in a comical way so even if there is an underlying serious message it doesn’t become staid or laborious but remains enjoyable to read. A popular way to get a giggle is neologism – the invention of new words. It might be considered slightly weird and pretentious if we started using a string of made up words in conversation and we’d probably receive a few looks like the one from this guy! Puzzled GuyChildren on the other hand can naturally get away with using their own words and it is an important part of their fantasy play. This may explain why children’s fiction is one of the world’s greatest playgrounds for defying the dictionary rules and a place where it is totally acceptable and at times quite unexpectedly many of these nonsense words turn out to make complete sense and end up landing straight inside our Oxford English dictionary of supposed sensible words!

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Oxford English dictionary is used as a benchmark for words deemed “acceptable” for official use in the English language. Any word which has not been entered could therefore be considered a made up word until such time it is permitted entry. Famous authors have been using made up words for decades, many of which have since become part of the official Oxford English vocabulary. In fact some words are so familiar it seems hard to envisage a time when they never existed!  Using someone like a “doormat” was a phrase coined by Charles Dickens for example in Great Expectations or “butter fingers” from The Pickwick Papers. Shakespeare thrived on creating words such as “laughable” in the Merchant of Venice, “gossip” in The Comedy of Errors and “scuffle” in Antony and Cleopatra. Milton penned “terrific,” “dismissive” and “complacency” in Paradise Lost (although not all within the same sentence!).

However, there is an art to word creation and simply jumbling random letters together is not going to work even if it does appear to be pronounceable. The general rule is to play around with conventional grammar and pronunciation in an unconventional way. This may involve hyphenating two words we wouldn’t normally see together or combining the meaning of two words to make one word as did Lewis Carroll when he fused chuckle and snort to devise chortle for his Jabberwocky poem; changing nouns into verbs or verbs into adjectives, merging familiar foreign words with English words, giving a new meaning to an existing word, adding prefixes or suffixes or devising original words from scratch. On top of this the word must also be able to adopt its own meaning if it is to become believable and to do this it must evoke feeling, have purpose or fulfil a need.

A purpose might be to get the reader laughing or to devise a new character such as Julia Donaldson’s Gruffalo, A.A. Milne’s Heffalump and even JM Barrie’s character Wendy in Peter Pan is a name that never existed until it was created for the book. It could be to incorporate a taboo subject without causing offense such as making up a fictitious swear word which makes the point but is actually harmless or like Roald Dahl’s whizzpopping, his way of referring to bodily functions amid a sensitive audience.

To fulfil a need might entail characters needing to be able communicate? Elvish in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, or Roald Dahl’s BFG’s Gobblefunk are perfect examples of this. Or to create a believable world around a character, such as casting spells like Alohomora (to open or unlock doors) or naming a game for young wizards Quidditch in Harry Potter (JK Rowling). Roald Dahl used his own words such as muggled for confused and whoopsy-splunkers for fantastic to express his characters feelings in original ways.

Made up words are not limited to writers. Words such as “bitmap” and “selfie” are springing up in everyday language as we adapt to new technological inventions and the words “blog” and “to text” have already been officially assigned to the dictionary. So just for fun I’ve made up a couple of my own words which I hope may resonate with some of my readers.

The first one describes how I feel on the days writing comes easily to me. I get a rush of ideas, it flows freely, feels lightweight, exciting and “flightatious.”

The second word “frotated” describes how I feel on the days writing is hard work and I find myself continuously disappointed and having to start over again and again, leaving a trail of screwed up pieces of paper in the bin (yes I do sometimes resort to the old fashioned pen and paper!).

Have a go, it’s fun! What are your words?

A Sensitive Ban or a Senseless Plan?

Farmyard

Image courtesy of bandrat at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Last week the Daily Mail published an article saying the Oxford University Press had banned the mention of sausages, pigs or anything deemed pork related from their children’s books. Shock, horror! What monster would demand that our children can’t read books like Peppa Pig or Olivia anymore? On its own this might seem ludicrous but this is by no means a new censorship. It has not only been in the OUP’s guidelines for some time already but this topic has been in and out of the newspapers for years. For example this 2003 article in the Guardian talks of pig books being banned in schools for exactly this reason and it was the Muslim Council of Britain who was quoted as trying to stop the “well-intentioned but misguided” ban.

Furthermore The Express in 2007 reported a Church of England school was told by a music festival panel that they could not perform the Three Little Pigs unless they changed it to Three Little Puppies for fear of offending any Muslims in the audience, (anyone familiar with Islamic teachings on the subject of dogs would understand the irony of that one!). Again it was Muslim Groups who were quoted as saying “their religion only stops them eating pork or touching a pig – not singing or talking about them.”

Of course last weeks revelation again prompted a whole barrage of articles from several newspapers on how ridiculous this sounded and in the OUP’s defence the Telegraph reported “a spokesman for the OUP said” (hang on shouldn’t that be spokesperson!) it was introduced to “encourage some authors of educational materials respectfully to consider cultural differences and sensitivities.”

Ok, let’s look at this from the publisher’s point of view. Why do publishers “consider cultural differences and sensitivities” and not allow complete freedom of speech? The mere nature of the publishing role demands that a book should not only be well written, interesting and entertaining but also needs to be a marketable product. This means that for it to be financially worth publishing it needs to appeal to as wide an audience as possible and remain eligible for selling with foreign language rights. It makes logical sense that a book will only be produced if it is likely to be bought. So it is inevitable that these topics have to be considered from both a moralistic and practical point of view if each book is to remain a positive experience for all potential readers, opposed to a negative one. It’s classic censorship, upholding the publisher’s responsibility to our children. The point being that of course individual beliefs and values should be taken into consideration, but nobody is questioning that. What is being questioned is where the line should be drawn and has it been taken too far in this instance? From the reaction received from many Muslims and Jews it makes me wonder whether this kind of ban is respecting their beliefs or inadvertently trivialising them. Perhaps these bans have touched the fine line between respecting cultural differences to that of being overly cautious and ending up making a huge issue over something that was never there in the first place.

To my mind (as quoted in the Daily Mail article above) a spokesperson for the Jewish Leadership Council put it perfectly.

“Jewish law prohibits eating pork, not the mention of the word, or the animal from which it derives.”

Banishing the word pig or sausage from a book is not going to eradicate its existence from our world and as far as I know they haven’t started eating Peppa Pig in the stories yet – which incidentally would be horrific – I know she likes spaghetti but I very much doubt she likes sausages!  Anyway isn’t it a bit like me saying it’s against my ethics to eat a dog so maybe I’ll stop my children reading books which mention the word dog? Then again perhaps I should suggest meat-based cookery books should be banned on grounds of being offensive to vegetarians!

So I will leave you to ponder over some well-known and much loved classics which at some point have been banned or challenged over a politically correct debate either prior or post publication.

Where the Wild Things AreWhere the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

Reasons: psychological issues with “how Max dealt with his emotions” and later for images “promoting witchcraft and supernatural events.”

The LoraxThe Lorax by Dr. Seuss

Reasons: being “anti-consumerism, supporting environmentalism” and “criminalising the forestry commission.”

the Wizard of OzThe Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

Reasons: being an “ungodly” influence and “depicting women in strong leadership roles.”

Alice in wonderlandAlice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Reasons: sexual references, talking animals being an insult to humans and the fear that it would encourage drug use.

The giving TreeThe Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

Reasons: “sexist” and a “vicious, one-sided relationship.”

Winnie the PoohWinnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne

Reasons: Piglet “might offend Muslim students and their parents,” being “pro-Nazi” and “an insult to God.”

James and the Giant PeachJames and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl

Reasons: “too scary for the targeted age group, mysticism, sexual inferences, profanity, racism, references to tobacco and alcohol, promoting disobedience, drugs and communism.”

Charlotte's WebCharlotte’s Web by E. B. White

Reasons: “talking animals are blasphemous and unnatural,” and on grounds of pigs being offensive to Muslims.

And Tango Makes ThreeAnd Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson

Reasons: depicting “homosexuality and same sex parenthood.”