You’re a Funny Man Mr. Stanton!

The Cambridge Union Chamber with Mr Stanton

Mr Stanton was an animated middle aged man with a curly black beard, bright spectacled eyes and arms which flapped like an owl trapped in the House of Lords. He was an unexpected surprise who hated being serious or limited to reading one type of book. What he liked was acting the fool, reading books, twisting a tale, having the audience in hysterics, writing stories, being silly, taking the mickey, guzzling water, reading and eating pizza and… did I mention books?

Only those of you who have read You’re a Bad Man Mr Gum may recognise some distant similarities to that quirky introduction.

Mr Gum 1

I’ve just returned from an afternoon in Cambridge with my family having been thoroughly entertained by Andy Stanton, children’s author of the Mr Gum series (published by Egmont), as part of the line up for the Cambridge Literary Festival today. His zany approach was both refreshing and uplifting and cleverly appealed on many levels to both adults and children.

He began by reading various amusing excerpts from his childhood schoolwork followed by some story ideas he’d written for Mr Gum which never reached the final book. A great message I thought for all writers young and old, that even though not all ideas will come to fruition keep writing them down. You never know how they may be used in the future.

Mr Gum 2

Mr Stanton was able to mix the trivial with the serious and jump from wacky to informative in the flip of a coin and was almost lyrical about his expulsion from Oxford University. He said “picture a vast meadow where you might want to look at a tree, a stream and a patch of grass or a flower.” For him reading is like being able to look at each of these elements separately or combined but he felt the university was putting constraints and limitations on which elements he was allowed to focus on. I see an even greater message lurking here. One that says you should always follow your heart – or maybe I’m misinterpreting it when really Andy is saying that “the truth is a lemon meringue.” Friday from Mr Gum would understand.

Mr Gum 3

It was clear Mr Stanton enjoys performing. He was consistently engaging as he continued to tease and interact throughout. He even got those who don’t like putting their hands up to put their hands up. My youngest particularly loved the conversation between the crow and Old King Thunder Belly. Andy continued his light hearted pantomime approach right through to the grand finale of question time.  He is a true entertainer and it was hilarious to experience his personality.

If you liked the sound of this event, please follow me on Twitter Amanda Lonergan (@lonerganbooks) and Facebook to hear about other upcoming author events, book crafts, news on children’s book releases and much more.


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London Storytelling Events for May Half Term

Fun 1

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.

Never Judge a Book by its Cover

Library Girl

Image courtesy of iosphere at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Oh but we do……every day of our lives. A multi billion pound advertising industry relies on us doing just that – judging a book by its cover. Of course I am talking both literally and metaphorically here. How do you choose a book for yourself or your child? Most people will initially say the cover. Why? Because it’s the first thing we see and the first impression we get. If that’s all wrong we are quick to assume the content must be all wrong and we move on to the next far more captivating cover honing us in. It’s the same with people. Like it or not, everyone’s done it at some point, whether consciously or unconsciously. If we’re not attracted to a person’s looks we make unsubstantiated judgements about them and can be less inclined or perhaps a little bit intimidated in getting to know them. Does that make us a nation of insincere, shallow creatures? The mere existence of this familiar adage shows we do frequently need reminding that ultimately what counts is not what is on the outside but what is on the inside. That is where the true interaction and satisfaction lies but sadly accepting this fact often evolves through experience opposed to instinct.

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog on Children’s Libraries Built to Inspire showing photos of some incredibly innovative designs but the reality is that with many of the smaller local libraries struggling to get funding we need to look deeper to truly appreciate their benefits. Without libraries where else do we get free books? No matter how much cheaper books become to buy, a free book will always remain priceless. Even when they cost just one or two pounds to buy, not everyone can afford to endlessly dish out a pound for a new book, it soon adds up. Not everyone can afford a tablet to benefit from the numerous free e-books available and even if we can, there are so many other things a growing family demands.

So do we still think first and foremost a library’s diminishing funds should be spent on making it look pretty? Surprise, surprise this brings me back round to what is important and that is the interaction, connection and experience we gain from visiting a library, the long lasting effects. With National Libraries Day approaching this Saturday 7th February, it’s the ideal time to take a closer look at some of the events libraries are hosting around the UK to help encourage children to read and nurture a lifelong love of reading. Below is a summary of the types of events and library activities on offer, many free of charge.

Reading groups: choosing and discussing a mutual book with other children creates a reading challenge which can boost their understanding of the book as well as encourage them to read a greater variety of books which inevitably entails reading ones they may not have initially picked themselves.

Writer’s Workshops: provide hands on practical tips on creative writing methods and the opportunity to learn from others work and present their own writing. They demonstrate how regular reading can trigger new ideas and strengthen their individual creative writing style.

Illustrator’s Workshops: can inspire children to create their own stories with pictures and develop visual imagination and dexterity. Understanding the entire creative process involved in picture book publication can spark a new perception of what reading is all about. Many reluctant or struggling readers in particular can quickly get overwhelmed with the sheer amount of words in front of them. Understanding what the illustrations and images are conveying can help so many readers to break a book down into manageable sized reading chunks.

Meet a published author: We all know that when someone expresses an endless passion for something we can’t help but be drawn in too. Meeting a professional author in person and discussing their newly published book demonstrates to young writers what is achievable, offers first hand knowledge of the author’s thought processes behind the book and instigates a new found enthusiasm for reading.

New author book launches: in the same vein a new author can quickly spread their excitement of achieving publication for the first time. They can offer fresh advice on how to become an author, discuss the drive behind the patience and determination it took to become a published author and tweak a child’s interest with something new to the book market.

Story time: Most libraries run regular story telling sessions for various age groups. These may involve quietly listening to a weekly featured book being read out loud, incorporating simple book crafts or puppetry to involve the children by animating the story or inviting a professional story teller to perform.

Book Festival Events: are frequently hosted at libraries. Talking about books whilst being surrounded by books makes for the ideal venue. Book festivals are a time when all the above events are multiplied and brimming with excitement, enjoyment and genuine interest.

So go on what have you got to lose? Check out your local libraries for any upcoming book events and let me know how you get on.

National Libraries Day – Sat 7th February