Chez l'abeille

Culture. Travel. Writing. My world in words and pictures


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The Streets of London: Chihuly at Kew Gardens.

During the Easter break we were fortunate to have some extraordinarily unseasonable weather – the sun shone, the sky was a bright summer blue and the thermometer rose – so this seemed the perfect opportunity to see an outdoor glass installation by a favourite artist.

The Dale Chihuly Exhibition, “Reflections on Nature” at The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew is a sequence of artworks, both indoors and nestled within the famous glasshouses. It took a couple of hours of gentle strolling to see them all and to spend time really looking at these beautiful works within the natural environment.

Enjoy!

As well as seeing the installations in the garden, we visited the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art (located inside Kew and included as part of your ticket). There is a large exhibition of classic pieces by Chihuly, some of which I already knew. However, I particularly liked seeing his drawings, which detail the swirls and undulations of the final pieces with an immediacy that is fascinating.

As I write this post, the weather has turned into Storm Hannah, wet, cold and far more like April. However the spirit of these wonderful works is continuing to keep a warm glow inside me. Later in the year there will be the chance to see them lit up at night. Something tells me I’ll be going!

The installation will be at The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew until 27th October 2019

©Chez l’abeille  2019

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Reading for pleasure part 1: What’s new in the Maverick Gold Band.

It will soon be the start of the summer term and for many Key Stage One teachers this means one thing: time for the Statutory Assessments or SATs. Reading is a key part of this process and by the time a child is completing this phase of their education there are a number of skills they are expected to master. Among the list provided in the National Curriculum we find that children should:

  • read accurately by blending the sounds in words that contain the graphemes  taught so far, especially recognising alternative sounds for graphemes
  • read accurately words of two or more syllables
  • read further common exception words
  • read aloud books closely matched to their improving phonic knowledge, sounding out unfamiliar words accurately, automatically and without undue hesitation

I would also add an additional aspect to reading at this age – it has to be FUN! Being able to read for the sheer joy and pleasure of the story is vitally important. So the books children have access to at this vital stage need to not only support their independence in the mechanics of reading, but also enthuse and engage them.

Looking at the new additions to the Maverick Early Readers at the Gold Band level, I think Year Two teachers will find plenty to support children develop these essential building blocks towards independent reading. Each one is a five chapter book, which will build reading stamina. On top of that they are great stories that are fun to read.

ER-The-Chicken-Knitters-Cover-LR-RGB-JPEG-731x1024“The Chicken Knitters” by Cath Jones and Sean Longcroft is a rollicking adventure with a host of capable and fast thinking female characters, including the chickens!  As I have recently rediscovered the joy of crochet, I was immediately drawn to this title. Lilly, our knitting heroine is determined to save the featherless chickens from the clutches of Farmer Claw. Despite several setbacks, she finally outwits the farmer with the help of the local school knitting champions and Edna McLuskey, the school caretaker.

Many of the year 2 spelling and grammar expectations feature, providing much needed examples in context. The text also includes plenty of onomatopoeia, which enriches the language experienced by the reader. What I particularly liked is the way environmental and animal welfare issues are carefully integrated into the story. This book would provide a good launch point for discussion around these points. The value of crafts and making things is another aspect which is promoted, and I was pleased to see that the champion knitters included a boy! More perceptive readers may wonder why Lilly herself wasn’t at school, but “The Chicken Knitters” is an engaging chapter book, with a very satisfying and happy conclusion.

ER-The-Coach-the-Shoes-and-the-Football-Cover-NYF-LR-RGB-JPEG-731x1024

Katie Dale has two new books in the Gold Band. “The Coach, the Shoes and the Football”, illustrated by Ellie O’Shea, is a witty inversion of the traditional Cinderella story. Raj (who is presumably an orphan because his mum is never mentioned) lives with Terry, his uncaring stepfather, and his two dreadful step brothers. All three make Raj’s life miserable and his only hope on the horizon is the summer football camp. Will Raj get to the try outs and impress Coach Prince? Not if Luke and Damon can help it. But despite their efforts and a series of setbacks, Raj is saved by his “hairy Godfather”, Dan, who even provides some sparkly new football boots too.

I liked the way the story references the traditional tale, but makes it a modern version – perfect for prompting similar re-telling of traditional tales from a different angle. It also uses interesting similes and wordplay to stretch the reader. When challenged, Terry turns “as purple as a beetroot,” and there’s also a full on cheesy Cinderella/football joke at the end which should make everyone groan!

ER-The-Magic-Music-Box-Cover-LR-RGB-JPEG-731x1024

Katie Dale’s second book is “The Magic Music box”, illustrated by Giovana Medeiros.

Bella is desperate to go to ballet school, but there just isn’t any spare cash to pay for it. Bella, however is determined and saves hard to acquire the tutu and shoes she needs. She is also given a magical music box with a dancing ballerina by the mysterious lady in the charity shop. The dancing ballerina inside coaches Bella until she is ready for the talent competition. But things don’t go as the reader may predict – and this is my favourite part of the story. In a time when talent shows are seen as THE way to achieve success, it’s heartening to have a story where hard work and practice are the virtues that get rewarded. In turn, Bella passes on the magical musical box to a dance obsessed boy – another nice twist in this engaging tale.

The story uses alliteration to very good effect, for example, Bella does the cha-cha-cha to the charity shop. There is also a range of descriptive vocabulary which will open up inference questions; when Bella trudges to the charity shop or bites her lip, how is she feeling? The illustrations also open up questions to be explored…just who is the woman from the charity shop?!  This is a sweet tale which emphasises how hard work is what will ultimately help you achieve your dreams.

ER-The-Spooky-Sleepover-Cover-LR-RGB-JPEG-731x1024Finally we have “The Spooky Sleepover” by Elizabeth Dale, illustrated by Steve Wood. I was particularly taken with the monochrome illustrations in this book, which seem to bridge between all colour picture books and an illustrated story.

Summer can’t wait to show off her new house to her friends, and nothing, including spooky noises and a mysterious cat, is going to stop the four girls from having fun! Ella is not so sure about the spooky goings on, but her friends are so reassuring that even she takes part in the midnight ghost hunt. The next day the four friends make a surprise discovery, with an even more surprising ending.

This story manages the balance between being scary but not TOO scary very well indeed! The lovely black and white illustrations work well, as the girls explore the night-time house, where every sound is different to the familiar day time world. I also like the way the girls are not reacting in a stereotypical way to the spooky noises and goings on. Summer has a practical explanation for each occurrence, and they all positively relish the idea of holidays spent looking for ghosts! The story builds gently to the final reveal, but still leaves enough room for discussion about what really happened.

All four of these new Gold Band books will give independent readers a challenge and support their writing skills too. Children who are writing at the greater depth standard are expected to “write effectively and coherently for different purposes, drawing on their reading to inform the vocabulary and grammar of their writing“. If these are the books they are reading, then they should be off to a great start.

©Chez l’abeille  2019

Disclaimer: I was provided with copies of the books by Maverick Books. I was not recompensed for this review and all views are my own.

 


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More Maverick doings…

I’ve reviewed several Maverick Early Readers before, so it’s always interesting to see the new titles and get a feel for how the series is developing. These new books certainly deliver. One of the things I love about them is that they would be equally at home in the home or in a classroom – so as my day job takes me in and out of many classrooms, I’m going to consider them in that context.

There is a lot of discussion in education currently, about the need for reading books that are “decodable”; that is, closely matched to the phonics knowledge a child has mastered. The recently revised draft Ofsted Inspection Framework makes much of this viewpoint, so many schools I expect, will be looking closely at their reading book shelves and making big decisions about their content. Personally, I think all the Maverick books would be a good addition to any classroom collection.

er-mole-in-goal-cover-lr-rgb-jpeg-731x1024First up then: Mole in Goal by Amanda Brandon and Giusi Capizzi (Orange Book Band/Phase 5 Letters and Sounds). This is a great book in which disability is sensitively explored. Mole has very poor eyesight and naturally short legs which prevent him being able to play his favourite game, football, until his goal keeping skills are discovered. What I particularly liked is the opportunity this affords for children to explore Blind Football and see how a visual impairment is not something that needs to prevent engagement in games and sports at very high levels. When his team mates create a sound making football, Mole is able to save the game and the day.  The illustrations work well with the text and I particularly liked the way Mole’s point of view is demonstrated, so children can see how he experiences the world.

er-the-oojamaflip-cover-lr-rgb-jpeg-1-731x1024The next three colour bands; turquoise, purple and gold, are all aimed at readers who have developed the required phonics skills and are now building their reading fluency. I was particularly happy to see “The Oojamaflip” by Lou Treleaven and Julia Patton (Turquoise Band) in the set I received. This story, in its very early submission stage was once shared with permission in a SCBWI workshop I attended and greatly influenced my move into sometimes writing in rhyme! In this funny story, the wonderously red haired  and resourceful Professor McQuark invents her Oojamaflip, which does exactly what it says! I was interested to see that this has been rewritten in prose and it did make me wonder if there is a place for rhyming texts within this series. However, I do think that having alternative versions of stories, outside of the traditional tale cannon is an equally useful addition to classroom resources. Given that I sometimes have to hear Year 2 children reading as part of my day job, I think this one may make its way into my work bag!

er-wishker-cover-lr-rgb-jpeg-731x1024“Whishker” by Heather Pindar and Sarah Jennings takes us up to Purple band, which brings in more opportunities for wider inference and discussions about the characters and their motivation. This also extends to the illustrations. The main character’s wish builds gradually into a massive problem, which presents the reader with a moral dilemma; Mirabel learns her lesson, but does somehow get her wish! However the nice twist at the end also brings opportunities for considering what happens next. I also felt the language and structure of the text gave it a sightly more episodic feel – perfect for building up the reading stamina as children move into early chapter books.

er-scary-scott-cover-lr-rgb-jpeg-731x1024So finally to “Scary Scott” by Katie Dale and Irene Montano (Gold Band). I loved this story for it’s humour and pace. The story is told over 5 chapters and I also liked how the illustrations interplay with the story and add layers of meaning, so the reader has to use their inference and deduction skills to really engage with the text. The tension builds gradually and there are some great Uh-Oh! moments and cliffhangers along the way. There is also another moral dilemma to discuss – how to do the right thing, even if you may lose out is an important consideration for most 6 and 7 year olds!

So once again, all I can say is Maverick have continued to bring children, parents and teachers some great stories which we can all enjoy in equal measure!

Bravo!

My other reviews of the Early Readers can be found here:

A “Maverick” reading scheme? Yes please!

Making Reading Real Again.

©Chez l’abeille 2019

 

 

 

 

 


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Writing: It’s a marathon not a sprint

youg child writing

I’ve always thought of myself as someone who writes, but it’s only in the last five years that I have written seriously.

After an exciting early phase of sending out frankly awful drafts of my stories, without a clue to why they were not the marvellous things I thought they were, I settled into a routine. Write, revise, critique, revise, submit. Repeat.

Time stretched and days passed as I wrote and wrote, furiously trying to balance the daily requirements of work and life…periods of drought when I thought I’d never have a new idea in my life, punctuated by needle sharp clarity and inspiration. Yet the rejections kept coming.

Then, as a result of winning a SCBWI Slushpile challenge I was accepted onto the very first Golden Egg Academy picture book programme. In the summer of 2018, I began submitting my stories again. As a GEA graduate and armed with three edited stories, I was feeling positive. Submit, wait…

Rejection. Rejection, rejection.

I felt crushed. I had poured my heart and soul into those stories for over a year. I had put all submission and competition entry on hold to give myself a chance…and for what purpose? To feel like THAT?

I’ve never wanted to run, let alone run a marathon but I think the resilience of the long distance runner must, in some way, be akin to that of the unpublished writer. Over the past five years, I have learnt to dig deep and stay in the race. I have jumped hurdles and learnt to get back up again. I have joined forces with other runners and writers to boost morale and share strategy. I have celebrated the successes and hard fought wins of others, whilst trying not to say out loud, “but when will it be MY turn?”

At this point, if I’m honest, I was the closest I have been to simply stopping. After all, no-one would get hurt, nothing would change, would it? Yet deep down, the toughness I had learned along the way wouldn’t let me. Just keep going, just keep writing, just keep submitting.

Write, submit…

Well, what can I say? I’m still pinching myself when I say to people that I’m now a represented writer. I have signed with a Literary Agent who loves my stories. We are editing and shaping to start submitting to publishers in the Spring. My first marathon has been run. A new one is about to begin.

This time I’m ready.

 

 

 


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Making Reading Real Again.

One of the longest standing debates in the teaching of reading must be the reading scheme vs. “real books” one. Over nearly 35 years of being involved in the teaching of reading, this one has rumbled and rumbled. Being a realist, I was always aware that the barrier to reading a published picture book independently lay in the complexity of the written words and this remains the main stumbling block.

Maverick have grasped this nettle and are building a deliciously appealing set of banded reading books which combine both the aesthetics of a picture book, yet have the graded vocabulary required to match a child’s developing decoding skills. The colour bands used to grade the books are derived from the “Book Band” system, developed by the Institute of Education, and used widely in schools to match books across the many existing schemes. I’ve been a long-standing devotee of the book bands, as they give teachers a short hand system for judging the relative difficulty of a book. In my day job I work with primary schools and this includes the moderation of reading assessments in Reception and Year. At times like this, being able to judge a book by its cover comes in very handy!

Maverick titles August 2018

New Maverick titles August 2018

I was able to review some of the earlier books in the scheme, which were in the Purple Band – definitely for the more confident readers likely to be in Key Stage 1. These were retellings of existing picture books, which was what I loved about them! I was therefore keen to see if there was any difference in the earlier bands, given the need to pitch the language and vocabulary to a more specific range of reading skills and knowledge.

Both books really worked well for me. Jim and the Big Fish, by SCBWI friend Clare Helen Welsh and Illustrated by Patricia Reagan is a Yellow Band book – this would roughly be aimed at a Reception/Year 1 child. It is a charming story with a seaside setting – now knowing Clare lives in Devon, this didn’t surprise me! Jim tries unsuccessfully to catch a big fish but the items he does fish out of the harbour, courtesy of the pesky seagulls, help him achieve his aim in a roundabout way! There are simple sentences and speech bubbles which feature easily decodable words, perfect for the developing reader. The usual quiz is at the end of the book to support recall skills. The illustrations also provide some opportunities for practising inference and deduction skills, as you have to look quite hard to see that the man in the boat is also fishing – it took me two reads through!

Little Scarlet’s Big Fibs by Katie Dale, Illustrated by Kevin Payne is a Blue Band book,  – perfect for Year 1 readers. This is based on the traditional Red Riding Hood story but with a great twist that will get children laughing! There is an increase in the number of sentences on the page, which will build reading stamina, but the reader is still supported by decodable words to help fluency. Small illustrated clues also give the reader information about just what Little Scarlet is up to and why Granny isn’t getting her treats. Granny is quite savvy and I’m also sure Scarlet won’t be eating her snacks again! One thing I did wonder about was the universality of crossing your fingers behind your back to excuse a fib…again this is a very small illustrative detail but key to any discussion around Scarlet’s behaviour – is telling lies to your Granny a good or bad thing? This would definitely be worth exploring from a moral standpoint.

Once again the high production values and quality of the writing shine through in both books and I think these are a great addition to the Maverick Early Reader scheme.

©Chez l’abeille  2018

 


The Streets of London: The Ghosts of Stoke Newington.

Not that kind of ghost – although according to Sam Roberts, aka Mr Ghost Signs, it has been known for people to take part in his walks expecting to see half visible glimpses of things past. Actually, they wouldn’t be that wrong really – but these are a different kind of ghost.

In the days of late 19th Century through to the mid-20th Century as businesses grew, advertising began to emerge in the form of painted signage. These old, fading signs can still be glimpsed in the high streets of our London villages and Stoke Newington is full of great examples.

I was lucky enough to get a spot on Sam’s last ever Stoke Newington guided walk – he’s hanging up his walking shoes for now, but if you want to follow in his own ghostly footsteps, the tour can be accessed via a rather good app. It’s highly recommended, and you can also download the sister walk around Bankside and Borough. If you want a peek into that then check out this post!

So here are a few of my favourites from the walk on a rather grey, damp day in early April.

The Westminster Gazette/ Army Club sign was the first on we saw, just up the hill from Stoke Newington train station.  Both this sign and the other nearby on at Willow Cottages are both examples of what Sam calls a palimpsest – different signs painted over each other. As they age the layers of paint fade and disappear at different rates allowing the signs underneath to come through. Westminster Gazette is also above a current newsagent, suggesting that this may have been the purpose of the business for some time.

Heading back down the hill we found the next cluster.

At the start of the walk we were warned to “use our wing mirrors!” Sam wasn’t wrong…walking along the streets the signs can be tucked in all sorts of spaces. originally they would have been placed in full view of shoppers and also up high to be visible from the train lines. With the continued rebuilding that occurs, many are now truncated or hidden from full view, as was the case of the Yates and Sons, dyers sign, which seems to have a door built right in the middle!

The furthest point down the High Street took us to one of the most spectacular of the existing signs: Cakebread Robey on Tyssen road. Sam’s research indicates there are at least three layers in this sign, all for the same firm. Again white paint was used to cover up existing signage and the lighter top coats are fade first. In 2016 A “light capsules” project developed projections of the signs which gave them a semblance of their former magnificence. I wasn’t able to get to this event, but there are pictures on the Ghost signs website if you want to see them.

Heading back and along Stoke Newington Church Street we came to the final cluster.

My favourite ghost sign of the whole walk was saved until last. I’ve just started reusing my original fountain pen, which saw me through O levels, A levels AND my degree…from the days when having a decent pen was an important element of your school pencil-case! I also remember having fountain pens which came with a built in lever to ensure maximum filling, which probably had enough tiny parts to make mending them a specialist trade.

A couple of hours is plenty of time to complete the walk which includes several other signs not shown here – for the full experience you’ll just have to go and find those ghosts for yourself.

http://www.ghostsigns.co.uk/

https://beecathy.wordpress.com/2017/03/05/the-streets-of-london-ghost-signs-3/

https://beecathy.wordpress.com/2015/06/28/ghost-signs-2-printers-paper-and-paint/

https://beecathy.wordpress.com/2015/02/11/ghost-signs-1-milk-bread-and-tea/

©Chez l’abeille  2018


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FOMO!

I’ve started to notice a curious feeling recently. About a year ago when my slush-pile winning text, “Where’s that tiger?” found me a place on the Golden Egg Academy picture book programme, I was on a real high. After several years of trying, things were finally moving in the right direction.

Once I was accepted onto the Golden Egg programme I knew I wouldn’t be doing any serious submitting for a while. I had stories to hone and editorials to be ready for. But lately as this fantastic year is coming to an end, I’ve realised I’m beginning to feel sendy! This is the term coined in my critique group when you just want to be sending your polished texts out into the big bad book world of submissions; where the dream could, just maybe, if I’m really lucky, come true. But there’s also something else. Something I can only describe as a HUGE fear of missing out, of needing to be THERE…in the right place, the right time, where that one agent will chat to ME and realise what a fabulous all round writing star I really am…

#FOMO. Fear of missing out. Something that gets bandied about on social media, almost as a joke. Yet within the writing world I’m beginning to wonder if it’s more pervasive than we may imagine. Recently I’ve been trying to analyse where this sensation comes from and how it can impact on the unpublished, or even published author.

I’ve used Twitter and other social media for a while now. It enables me to keep in touch with my writing peers and hero/ines all at the touch of a finger. What I have come to see, however, is that a constant feed of Woo-Hoos and celebratory huzzahs can start to dent the confidence of those whose moment has not yet arrived. It’s all too easy to begin to compare yourself to all those successful authors and illustrators and feel, well, not quite good enough!

At moments like that I turn to my trusty critique group. They know my writing very well and provide a healthy perspective on what I am achieving. We also share and discuss the realities of our personal writing journeys, both the highs AND the lows and this helps maintain a more balanced view. Yet it can gnaw away at your confidence when all about you are apparently getting signed to agents or having their fabulous publications splashed across the book world and somehow you begin to feel that you are being left behind. In moments like that, the most important thing to remember is that no one ever posts their failures and rejections in the same way they share their success! Behind each and every wow moment lies just as much pain and fear of failure that will accompany anyone who calls themselves a writer. You are not alone!

It’s also easy to feel that you have to be at every event, workshop, critique event or conference that comes along. This year I was able to visit the London Book Fair as the timing coincided with the school holiday period. I remember last year feeling rather jealous of all the book people who were able to go, as if somehow they had progressed an extra step up the ladder. I had to go…I had to be there to be a part of it, as all proper writers must surely be.

This morning, before I headed out to travel to the fair, I scanned Twitter and this comment made me stop and think:

In the interests of balance, I am NOT at the London Book Fair. So if you’re an author (aspiring or published) and you’re not there either, don’t be panicked by FOMO and a timeline full of tweets. It can be fun, but it’s really not an essential part of the process.

And they were right! I had a thoroughly pleasant time looking at all the books but would I rush back? I could possibly achieve the same outcomes by visiting my local bookshop or library!

Yet, given the array of things that are available it can become increasingly difficult to say no! The annual calendar starts to fill up with workshops, conferences, competitions. Again social media buzzes: Are you going? Are you entering? What will happen if you DON’T? Agents are found, deals are made…you have to be in it, to win it, don’t you? Yet in reality choices must be made, and budgets managed. Planning ahead and focusing on events that will develop friendships as well as my writing has become a more meaningful approach for me.

During my year of no submissions, I have developed seven stories and they are all the better for the time I have taken to let them sit and percolate. I have now written out a tentative plan for the next steps as I re-enter the world of rejection and hope! I’ll be working hard not to let FOMO deflect or defeat me. Writing is a journey not a destination.

©Chez l’abeille  2018