Wednesday, 4 April 2018

RUBY THE DUCKLING Easter competition artwork

The Ruby the Duckling books by me and Rebecca Harry are particularly popular around Easter time. I guess this has something to do with Ruby's resemblance to a yellow Easter chick.

Rebecca and I decided to mark this Easter by offering Ruby's readers the chance to win a portrait of Ruby by Rebecca in a prize competition. To enter they had to paint or draw their own Ruby portrait and send a photo of it to Rebecca or myself via Twitter or Facebook. Rebecca had provided some guidance on how to do this on a How to Draw Ruby activity sheet on the Hatchling Books web site.

Click here to download a copy of Rebecca's
How to Draw Ruby sheet.

Here are the lovely drawings and paintings we received in response:

The first Ruby to arrive was this one, by a real life Ruby, age 3.

By Elodie, age 5.

The clutch of Rubies shown below arrived together from the same class!

This first clutch of lovely pictures is from Leyla May age 3, Madison age 4, Ava age 4, Lewi age 3, Deakon age 4,
Grace age 4, Emelia age 3, Annette age 5 & Rhiannon age 5 …

… and this second cracking selection is from Brodie age 5, Bobby-Jai age 5, Isla age 5, Harry age 5, Charles age 5, Amelia age 5, Daniel age 4, Jenson age 3, Khloe age 3, Jenson age 3, Ethan age 3 and Jack age 5.

By Rhiannon, age 4.

By Mair

Our last entry was from another real life Ruby!.

When the competition was finished, Rebecca wrote all the names on strips of paper, put them into a bag and got her son, Iolo, to pick a winner at random, which was …

The winning picture by Ethan, age 3.

… this painting by Ethan Ethrington!

Congratulations to Ethan! This lovely portrait of Ruby, signed by Rebecca and myself, will be winging it's way to you shortly.

Rebecca painted this picture of Ruby especially for the competition.

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

THE EMIRATES FESTIVAL OF COGNITIVE DISSONANCE: How do writers and publishers square their commitment to freedom of expression with sponsorship by a brutally repressive regime?

Some of the eminent writers currently appearing at this year’s Emirates Airline Festival of Literature.
Top: Carol Ann Duffy DBE, Anthony Horrowitz OBE, Eoin Colfer, Jacqueline Wilson DBE.
Bottom: Jenni Murray OBE, Lemn Sissay MBE, David Walliams OBE, Kate Adie OBE

Cognitive dissonance – the mental discomfort that results from a person performing an action that contradicts their ideals – seems to be reaching epidemic proportions at the moment. Whether it’s pro-EU politicians voting through Brexit bills or eco-conscious holidaymakers taking climate-wrecking long haul flights, many of us seem to be behaving in ways that conflict with our deeply-held principles.

"While the festival presents itself as promoting freedom of expression and the exchange of ideas, its sponsors have gone to great lengths to ensure that this freedom does not extend beyond the festival’s glitzy bubble"
Among the sufferers in this epidemic are the many eminent UK authors currently appearing at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in Dubai. The festival's main sponsors are Emirates Airline and the Dubai Government (who are the airline’s sole owners) and the festival’s patron, Sheik Mohammed, is both the ruler of Dubai and the Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). While the festival presents itself as promoting freedom of expression and the exchange of ideas, its sponsors have gone to great lengths to ensure that this freedom does not extend beyond the festival’s glitzy bubble and UAE residents wishing to remain at liberty must be extremely careful about which ideas they attempt to exchange. According to Amnesty International, more than a hundred peaceful critics of the Sheik’s government have been imprisoned since the festival was launched in 2009, most of whom remain in prison today.

The already dire state of freedom of expression in the UAE took a further nosedive nine days after the close of last year’s festival when Ahmed Mansoor, a courageous critic of Sheik Mohammed’s government described by Amnesty as "the last remaining Emirati human rights defender speaking out about human rights violations in the country,” was arrested during a midnight raid on his family home. Mansoor has since been held in an unknown location. Amnesty have said that they are “appalled and dismayed” by Mansoor's arrest and expressed concerns that he may be at risk of torture.

Human rights organisations explain the vital role played by UAE human rights defender
Ahmed Mansoor in this 2015 video made before his arrest.

Mansoor’s arrest was part of a further crackdown of freedom of expression in the three weeks following last year’s festival which also included the sentencing of Dr Nasser bin Ghaith to ten years in prison for the "crime" of criticising Sheik Mohammed’s government on Twitter. In a statement on Dr Nasser bin Ghaith’s sentencing, Amnesty’s Lynn Maalouf observed that “the authorities have left no room for doubt: those who dare to speak their minds freely in the UAE today risk grave punishment.”

"The authorities have left no room for doubt: those who dare to speak their minds freely in the UAE today risk grave punishment."
Amnesty International
Sheik Mohammed’s continuing sociopathic obsession with suppressing freedom of speech among his subjects does not seem to have deterred many authors from accepting invitations to the lavish festival he sponsors. This year’s programme boasts an impressive roll call of writing talent, with current UK Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, former UK Children’s Laureate Dame Jacqueline Wilson and former Irish Children’s Laureate Eoin Colfer all making return appearances. UK journalists and broadcasters are also well represented by the Observer’s Associate Editor Robert McCrum and the BBC’s Jenni Murray OBE and Kate Adie OBE among others.

Penguin's pledge to champion freedom of expression.
I don’t know exactly how many of the writers appearing at this year’s festival are members or supporters of organisations like English PEN, who campaign to defend writers around the world “whose human right to freedom of expression is at risk”, but this group must be among those enduring the most severe degree of cognitive dissonance. There must also be staggeringly high levels of cognitive dissonance among the publishers listed among the festival’s secondary sponsors whose codes of conduct commit them to defending freedom of expression. These include Penguin, a “Silver Pen Partner” of English PEN, who claim to have “a long and proud history of championing free speech”.

Penguin’s website includes a corporate pledge to “champion freedom of expression” which it describes as “fundamental to our organisation” and several Penguin authors testify to how much “free speech matters” to them in the 2011 video below.

Prominent among them is Anthony Horowitz OBE, another of the big name UK authors making a return appearance at this year’s festival. Horowitz explains in the video that “freedom of speech is a fundamental human right,” and emphatically states that “censorship is sterile, it’s empty, it’s repressive!”. Given Horowitz’s vehement abhorrence of censorship, the knowledge that a “loony” (Horowitz’s word for a censorious leader like Sheik Mohammed) will be picking up the tab for his business class travel and lavish hospitality must be inducing an almost crippling degree of cognitive dissonance.

"If freedom means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear."
George Orwell
A festering hotspot of cognitive dissonance within the festival programme is the annual George Orwell Lecture, where invited luminaries give a talk inspired by the great writer’s politics, philosophy and beliefs. Last year's George Orwell Lecture was given by distinguished BBC broadcaster James Naughtie. Yes – this IS the same George Orwell who wrote “If freedom means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” I don’t know if Sheik Mohammed is an Orwell fan, but if he is, he seems to have misinterpreted Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell’s nightmarish vision of an oppressive surveillance state, as a guidebook on how to govern Dubai and the wider UAE. Human Rights Watch described the Sheik's government's introduction of censorious "cybercrime" laws in 2012 as having "effectively closed off the country’s only remaining forum for free speech". The UAE authorities have been widely criticized by human rights groups for deploying expensive surveillance software to spy on human rights activists. In 2016 the Sheik's government invested an unprecedented amount of money in an attempt to hack the iPhone of now-imprisoned human rights campaigner Ahmed Mansoor, forcing Apple to issue a security update and earning Mansoor the soubriquet of the Million Dollar Dissident. Prior to his arrest, Mansoor had been communicating with human rights groups outside the UAE using Skype, but in January this year UAE authorities blocked the use of the video-calling app (having already blocked Facetime and the call features in WhatsApp, Facebook, Viber and Snapchat). When thousands of UAE residents signed an online petition on calling for Skype to be reinstated, the authorities blocked the use of as well. The UAE’s Thought Police are nothing if not thorough.

The politics of festival patron and sponsor Sheik Mohammed make Donald Trump's look liberal.

Most UK writers tend to be on the left of the political spectrum and a current bête noire of many is US president Donald Trump. Since Trump was elected in 2016, UK writers have been falling over each other to condemn his bullying, bigoted brand of politics. I suspect few of these writers would be willing to lend their names to a Trump Industries Festival of Literature sponsored by the US leader, no matter how great the opportunity for dialogue and cultural exchange with US citizens. It’s a testament to the cognitive-dissonance-inducing effects of the Emirates Airline Festival and Sheik Mohammed’s adeptness for PR that so many left-wing authors, poets, journalists and broadcasters are unable or unwilling to apply the same ethical judgment to a festival sponsored by the Sheik, a politician so right wing, he makes Donald Trump look like a liberal. While Trump can at least claim to be a democratically elected leader who represents the people he governs, the Sheik is an autocratic dictator who brutally suppresses all calls for democratic reform. While Trump’s government bars critical journalists from their press conferences, the Sheik’s has them abducted, imprisoned and tortured. And while Trump is curbing the rights of LGBT citizens, the Sheik criminalises them and bans trans visitors from entering Dubai and the wider UAE.

One area where Trump is openly modelling his policies on those of Sheik Mohammed is workers’ rights. When Trump sang the praises of Dubai Airport in 2016’s presidential debates, he neglected to mention the inhumane labour practices that enabled Sheik Mohammed’s government to build such grandiose structures so quickly and for so little money. Trump has a first-hand knowledge of these practices, having exploited them himself to build the Trump International Golf Club in Dubai, and his administration’s current attack on worker’s rights is intended to bring US workers' rights closer to that of Dubai’s.

“If the UAE’s labour exploitation was white-on-black instead of Arab-on-Asian, few UK writers would be comfortable enjoying the festival’s lavish hospitality.”
Dubai’s building and services industries are dependant on the existence of an underclass of Asian migrant workers, many of whom work in conditions that have been described as “very close to slavery”. A recent Guardian article by Nick Cohen likened the relationship between the UAE’s Arab elite and its migrant underclass to apartheid. If the UAE’s labour exploitation was white-on-black instead of Arab-on-Asian, few UK writers would be comfortable enjoying the festival’s lavish hospitality. Exploitation is exploitation, no matter which race is on top. It seems that once a writer has allowed cognitive dissonance to infect one area of their ethical judgment, it spreads to others as well.

The UAE has set itself up as the gatekeeper of literature for the Gulf region. The Dubai-based Emirates Airline Festival is the biggest literature festival in the Arab world and the annual book fair in the neighbouring emirate of Sharjah is also the largest in the region. Both the festival and the book fair are heavily reliant on high-profile UK authors to fill out their programmes.

This reliance on UK talent presents the UK literary community with a real opportunity to promote freedom of expression and respect for human rights within the Gulf. The UK literary community has far more leverage in the UAE than it does in most countries where freedom of expression is currently under attack, such as Turkey or Egypt.

"By acting as window dressing for the UAE’s showcase literary events, respectable UK writers are helping to give the impression that their UAE government sponsors are also respectable."
The unfortunate outcome of the epidemic of cognitive dissonance among the eminent UK writers appearing at the festival is that, instead of helping to curb censorship and other human rights abuses in the country, they are helping to whitewash over them. By acting as window dressing for the UAE’s showcase literary events, respectable UK writers are helping to give the impression that their UAE government sponsors are also respectable.

Sheik Mohammed’s gang of autocratic leaders is not the only government that would prefer the festival's writers to keep quiet about their sponsors’ poor human rights record. The UK government is currently prioritising trade over human rights in the UAE and has announced plans to double bilateral trade between the two countries to £25bn in the next two years. Arms sales are especially lucrative; despite its size, the UAE was the 10th biggest buyer of UK arms between 2012 and 2016. The participation of eminent UK writers in UAE state-sponsored events like the festival help to cement relations between the UK and the UAE. And, of course, the chief reason that UK publishers with “a long and proud history of championing free speech” are prepared to endure such high levels of cognitive dissonance at events like the Emirates Airline Festival and Sharjah Book Fair is that there is a great deal of money to be made from book sales in the region as well.

The road ahead looks rocky. As the UK leaves the European Union, Great Britain PLC will be obliged to look further afield for lucrative trading partners and that inevitably means more cosying up with repressive states like the UAE. I fear we are going to have to endure a lot more Emirates-Festival-style cognitive dissonance as a consequence.

Further Information

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

World Book Day Treasure Hunt

This post was originally published on Picture Book Den, a blog about picture books by picture book authors and illustrators.

Last year's post on how to organise a "Picture Book World Cup" in schools got such a good response that I thought I'd follow up with a similar post on how to run a Picture Book Treasure Hunt.

Like the Picture Book World Cup, this is an activity that I originally ran with my former Patron of Reading school, Asfordby Captain's Close Primary in Leicestershire. We did our treasure hunts in June, which meant we were able to run them outside, in the school grounds, but a hunt would work just as well inside. And it would make an ideal book-themed activity for nest week's World Book Day, which is why I'm blogging about it now!

A Captain's Close student discovers one of the question sheets.

We ran two separate treasure hunts: a picture book themed hunt for Key Stage 1 and a novel themed hunt for Key Stage 2. I'm going to describe how to run the KS1 picture book version, but the KS2 version works in a similar way and you can find information on it and links to download packs for both versions at the bottom of this post.

How the hunt works

The hunt is a race against time. The first student to complete it correctly wins. A winner's certificate is included in the download pack, but schools may want to offer a book as a prize as well.

Once they have completed the hunt, students will need to hand in their answer slip to a Hunt Collector (a nominated member of staff), so make sure all the students know who the Hunt Collector is and where they can be found before the hunt starts. 

If the hunts we ran are anything to go by, the winner is more likely to be a tortoise than a hare. Make it clear that the winner is the first student to hand in a CORRECTLY COMPLETED answer slip. The twentieth student to hand in their slip could still be the winner if the previous nineteen have not completed the hunt correctly!

It will take a little time to check the answer slips, so let the students know when the winner will be announced. If you're running the hunt in the morning, you might tell the students that the winner will be announced in an afternoon assembly.

The hunt uses a set of ten multiple choice question sheets like this one:

The question sheets are stuck up in different locations around the whole of the school. Before the hunt starts, make sure students know where they can and where they cannot look.

Students all start the hunt at the same time, but in any place, with any sheet. It makes sense to split students up as much as possible at the start so they begin in lots of different locations. That way, they will not all be looking for the same question sheet at the same time.

Each student is given an answer slip like this:

When a student finds their first sheet, they write down the big letter at the top in the first square of their answer slip. Then they read the question and decide which of the four book covers at the bottom of the sheet is the correct answer. Then the student has to find another sheet that has that book cover at the top and repeat the same process.

Students should be able to answer the questions in the KS1 hunt in the download pack by looking at the books' covers. Remind students that if they have a problem reading or understanding a question, they can ask a teacher for help.

As students search for the question sheet with the correct cover, they will probably spot other question sheets that they will need to find later on in the hunt, so students should try to remember where each sheet is, even if it's not the one they're currently looking for.

When a question leads a student back to the question sheet they began with, they should have a letter in each of the 10 boxes. They have now finished the hunt and should hand in their answer slip to the Hunt Collector straight away!

The first student to hand in a correctly completed answer slip to the Hunt Collector wins.

Tips for the organisers

Example question sheet: Before starting the hunt, use the example question sheet in the download pack to explain how the hunt works and what students have to do.

Synchronise the start: Agree an exact start time for the hunt, then split the students into small groups and ask a member of staff to accompany each group to a different part of the school to start the students at that time.

Leave time to find the winner: If the hunt we ran is anything to go by, the first students to hand in their slips will have got their letters in the wrong order and you will have to check through several incorrectly completed slips before finding a correctly completed winner.

When you announce the winner (preferably in an assembly), you might want to spread the credit and heighten the tension by revealing the top three hunters in reverse order.  If the school is feeling generous, they could give a prize to the runners-up too.

Tips for the Hunt Collector

Don't worry about marking the answer slips as they come in! The important thing is to keep a record of the order you receive them. So write a number in the top box in the top right corner of each slip as it is given to you.

The first few students to give you their answer slips will probably have filled them in incorrectly, so keep collecting the slips and recording the order you receive them in until you've collected them all or until the time programmed for the hunt is over.

Once you've collected all the answer slips, you can use the long marking strip in the download pack to check the sequence on each slip quickly. Starting with the first answer slip to be handed in, line up the first letter on the slip with the first occurrence of the same letter on the marking strip. If the student has completed the hunt in the right order all of the following letters will match those on the marking strip.

Use the long marking strip to check the sequence quickly, by lining up the first letter on the student's sheet with the same letter's first appearance on the strip.

If the sequence of letters on the first slips you check don't match the sequence on the marking strip exactly, put a cross where the sequence is broken. It's worth keeping rejected slips in the order they were collected in as, in the event that no student gets the whole sequence right, you will need to go back through the slips and pick out a winner with the longest correct sequence.  

Once you've found the winner you can fill out the certificate in the download pack and present it to them.

Foundation and Reception Simplified Option

Foundation and reception students can do an easier version of the hunt by simply finding all the question sheets and writing down all the letters. The winner is the first student to hand in a slip with all the correct letters in any order.

Hunt the Teacher Option

The download pack contains an off the peg version of the hunt that will work in any school. However, the original hunts we ran included extra questions about teachers' favourite books, as shown in the example below.

Additional Hunt the Teacher question sheets like this get
students talking to teachers about their favourite books.

To answer this question, students had to find the teacher and ask them which book was their favourite. This was a good way to show children that grown-ups enjoy reading and to get the students talking to staff about their choices. If you want to create your own version of the hunt using this option, you will need to ask staff to name their favourite books in advance so they can be written into the hunt. And if a staff member is unexpectedly away on the day (as was the case with one of our hunts), make sure another staff member knows the correct answer and that the students know who this is before they start the hunt.

Key Stage 2 Version

A download pack for an off the peg Key Stage 2 version featuring children's novels is also available below. This runs in exactly the same way as the KS1 version, but has the following tweaks to make it a little more difficult:

  • There are 15 questions instead of 10.
  • While the answers to some questions can be found by looking at the covers, others require a little knowledge of the books.
  • On some question sheets, more than one of the covers at the bottom of the sheet can be found at the top of other sheets, so students can't just go looking for any of the four options like they can in the KS1 hunt - they need to find the sheet with the correct cover to get the correct sequence of letters. If students get back to the sheet they started with and haven’t got a letter in all 15 of the boxes, they will probably have skipped a few letters by answering a question incorrectly.

And of course, you can create your own KS2 hunt with some hunt the teacher question sheets just like the ones described for the KS1 version above.

Click on an image below to download a Treasure Hunt pack as a zip file.

Key Stage 1

Key Stage 2

For some more ideas for activities your school can do to celebrate World Book Day,

For an exciting picture book race against time, check out my rhyming romp
illustrated by Ed Eaves, and published by Oxford University Press.

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Thursday, 18 January 2018

HERE BE MONSTERS remains my most borrowed book

I've just received last year's UK library loans figures for my books, courtesy of the Public Lending Right (PLR) organisation.

Here Be Monsters, illustrated by Poly Bernatene, is my most borrowed book for the second year running. The tale of dastardly pirates and ravenous monsters was taken out of UK libraries over seventeen thousand times last year.

A Spot of Bother, illustrated by Vanessa Cabban, has jumped from fifth to second place, while Prince Ribbit, also illustrated by Poly Bernatene, has entered the top 5 for the first time at number 4.

The PLR figures show that my books were borrowed from UK libraries a total of 149,917 times last year.

Here are my top 5 most borrowed books.

PositionTitleNº of loansRelative Position
1Here Be Monsters
illustrated by Poly Bernatene
2A Spot of Bother
illustrated by Vanessa Cabban
3The Princess and the Pig
illustrated by Poly Bernatene
4Prince Ribbit
illustrated by Poly Bernatene
5The Silver Serpent Cup
illustrated by Ed Eaves

A big THANK YOU to everyone that borrowed my books, the wonderful librarians that made them available and the UK PLR scheme for helping authors like me to earn a living.

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Missing Vowels Christmas Picture Book Puzzler

This post was originally published on Picture Book Den, a blog about picture books by picture book authors and illustrators.

Following on from previous Christmas Quizzes in 2015 and 2016, here's another set of picture book puzzles for you to solve. This year I've taken my inspiration from the "Missing Vowels" round of BBC quiz show Only Connect. For those unfamiliar with the show, I've taken the titles of ten classic picture books, removed all of the vowels and punctuation marks and changed the spaces between the words. For example, THE GRUFFALO might be changed into THG RF FL.

How many ‘disemvowelled’ book titles can you recognise? Click on each image to reveal the answer. To make things more Christmassy – there's a festive theme to the even-numbered titles.











How did you do?

10 O for outstanding: Your knowledge of picture book titles is exemplary!
7–9 A for advanced: A good effort. You know your Child from your Chichester Clark.
4–6 I for intermediate: Not bad, but perhaps you should add a few picture book classics to your Christmas list.
1–3 U for ungraded: A disappointingly Gruffa-low score. You need to brush up on your picture book knowledge.

My sparkling seasonal story Diamond in the Snow, illustrated by Vanessa Cabban, has just been re-published in a new edition from Walker Books.

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