World Book Day 2016 author visits for schools

World Book Day (Thursday 3 March) is looming large on the 2016 calendar, and children’s authors all over the country are filling their diaries with lovely schools to visit. An author visit can spark bookish enthusiasm in primary school pupils and launch hitherto reluctant readers on a quest for their next fiction fix. If your school has not yet organized its activities for that week, then now is probably a good time. If you leave it until mid-February then it will be nigh impossible to book any author.

The World Book Day website contains all sorts of useful information about this year’s featured books and how to organize World Book Day activities. On 22 February 2016 there is going to be a bumper book quiz extravaganza – a Guiness world record attempt for the most people participating in simultaneous book quizzes!

Here is my itinerary for the coming weeks. As you can see, I am still available in mid-March for author visits and Able Writers Days. And in mid-April I am planning a series of school events for KS1 and EYFS to celebrate the launch of a new picture book ALL ABOARD FOR THE BOBO ROAD, beautifully illustrated by Christopher Corr.

DateSchoolLocationNature of visit
3 February 2016Westbridge Primary BatterseaCreative writing tutorial
8-9 February 2016The Mill Primary AcademyCrawleyAble Writers Days
10 February 2016Westbridge Primary BatterseaCreative writing tutorial
11 February 2016St Martin's C of E Primary SchoolBrightonAble Writers Day
22 February 2016Westbridge Primary BatterseaCreative writing tutorial
23-24 February 2016Queen Eleanor's Junior SchoolGuildfordAble Writers Days
26 February 2016Westbridge Primary BatterseaCreative writing tutorial
29 February 2016Headington SchoolOxfordWorld Book Day sessions
3 March 2016Brickhouse Primary SchoolBirminghamWorld Book Day sessions
4 March 2016Anglesey Primary SchoolBirminghamWorld Book Day sessions
8 March 2016Henwick Primary SchoolElthamAble Writers Day
21-25 March 2016International SchoolsBangladeshAuthor Visit
14 April 2016Macaulay SchoolLambethBOBO ROAD launch
19 April 2016Alveston Primary SchoolStratford-on-AvonAuthor Visit

May and June are my quietest months for author visits in schools, so I shall be offering a substantial discount on any bookings in these two months. Please contact me for details: sahelsteve@gmail.com

Ideas for World Book Day 2016 costumes

My daughters’ school (along with thousands of others around the country) encourages children to come into school on World Book Day dressed as one of their favourite children’s book characters. Here are some suggestions for World Book Day 2016 costumes:

  • an enormous cardboard nose (Barry Loser)
  • a scary scull mask (Skull from THE DREAMSNATCHER)
  • a big pile of (fake?) books (The Incredible Book Eating Boy)
  • little horns on a hidden headband (Jinx from the wonderful D’EVIL DIARIES)
  • a pantomime unicorn costume (I Believe in Unicorns)
  • any one of a hundred fantastic Japanese monsters from Jason Rohan’s SWORD OF KUROMORI and sequels

Or perhaps you could take inspiration from one of these prize-winning costumes at Mudeford Junior School in Dorset. My personal favourites are the Demon Dentist (back right) and the white rabbit from Alice in Wonderland, complete with enormous pocket watch.

World Book Day 2016 costume ideas

If you have a good idea for a World Book Day 2016 activity or costume, please do share it in the comments below!

Fabedougou in Burkina Faso

The Domes of Fabedougou must be one of my favourite places in Burkina Faso. They are located in the south-west of the country, in a desolate spot between Bobo Dioulasso and Banfoura. These striking egg-shaped formations are very similar to the Bungle Bungles in Australia. They date back 1.8 billion years and were probably covered by water for much of their history, hence the peculiar layering of the rock.

Domes_of_Fabedougou1

I came here with Charlie the day after we got engaged back in 2006, and again two years later as part of a larger group. The convenient hand and footholds all the way up the domes make them very easy to climb, and the view from the top is breathtaking.

For our forthcoming picture book ALL ABOARD FOR THE BOBO ROAD, illustrator Christopher Corr has painted the Domes of Fabedougou beautifully, both on the cover of the book and on one of the inside spreads. Pink, purple, brown, ochre and yellow stripes cut across the orange domes of rock. Once again, Chris has given us a real feast for the eyes.

ALL ABOARD FOR THE BOBO ROAD comes out in the UK on 7 April 2016, published by Andersen Press.

Fulani folk tales about Rabbit, Hyena and Crocodile

One of my favourite things to do in Burkina Faso was to visit remote cattle-herding settlements and listen to folk stories told by ingenious Fulani men, women and children. Many of these stories were ‘trickster’ tales, where a small cunning rabbit succeeds in outwitting larger, fiercer creatures. The downfall of the big creatures tended to be provoked not just by the rabbit’s cleverness, but by their own greed, pride or anger.

Crocodile and Rabbit in Fulani folk story

Last September my new book for schools came out. Published in the Harper Collins ‘Big Cat’ series, it is a collection of four traditional Fulani tales in which the wily rabbit pits his wits against Hyena and Crocodile. It is illustrated by Steve Stone, who has brought the tales wonderfully to life.

new book of Fulani folk tales

Fulani folk tale workshop

This year I am offering Year 4 workshops based on the book. The format of the session is as follows: we start with a quiz that highlights the importance of the ‘trickster’ figure in ancient and modern storytelling, from Anansi to Puck to Robin Hood to Bart Simpson. Then we use concrete examples to tease out general characteristics of trickster figures. Finally, children work in twos to create and present their own trickster characters. This workshop is a great introduction to stories from other cultures. See my school visits page for details, or write to me at sahelsteve@gmail.com.

Tired of hating people – the story of Zak Ebrahim

Interesting story from Zak Ebrahim, the son of a terrorist, about his rejection of violence and his determination not to be his father’s son. Resonates closely with the character development of Ali in BLOOD & INK.

Particularly poignant was Zak’s mother’s reaction to his change of heart:

She looked at me with the weary eyes of someone who had experienced enough dogmatism to last a lifetime, and said, ‘I’m tired of hating people.’ In that instant I realized how much negative energy it takes to hold that hatred inside of you.

Don’t Bomb Syria

As a children’s author, I try to keep this blog book-related, so posts like this are rare. But there is a time for everything under the sun…

Feeling hoarse today after the protest in Parliament Square last night. Very good attendance. All ages, all colours. Speeches by Caroline Lucas and several MPs. The language David Cameron used recently (calling such people ‘terrorist sympathizers’) is a shameful slur. All of the people who spoke last night condemned IS in the strongest terms. But they believe that launching airstrikes in this case would be wrong and counterproductive. Another protest planned for tomorrow.

Here is the text of one of the letters I have sent to my Member of Parliament. Jane Ellison is MP for Battersea.

Dear Mrs Ellison,

I live on Battersea High Street and am deeply impressed by the work you have done as Public Health Minister as well as MP for Battersea.

May I urge you to join your Conservative colleagues John Baron MP, David Davis MP and others, in voting against the government this evening on the question of Syria airstrikes.

David Cameron’s case for airstrikes is by no means compelling. Particularly questionable is his claim of 70,000 ‘moderate’ troops ready to back the UK. Even if they existed, would they be organized and united enough to hold and administer territory?

Peter Ford, former British ambassador to Damascus, has described Cameron’s case for airstrikes as ‘reckless’. He thinks it will fuel the rise of jihadism in the UK.

No bomb is smart enough to avoid incidents such as the deadly October air strike on an MSF hospital in Afghanistan that killed 30 people, which the US now admits was a "tragic mistake" due to "human error."

I joined the protest march in Parliament Square last night, and will continue to campaign on this matter, even after tonight’s vote.

I am sure you will do what you believe is right, whip or no whip.

Yours sincerely,

Stephen Davies

Able Writers Day pupil self-publishes debut

inspired_by_Able_Writers_Day

I met Parris at a recent Able Writers Day. This Year 6 girl had a great imagination and a real feel for dialogue. Over the course of the day, she learned some techniques for building interesting characters and she applied them cleverly in her own work. By the end of the day, she had the makings of a brilliant short story, and won some ‘Goggle-Eyed Goats’ postcards for her trouble.

That was at least a month ago. This morning I got a message from Parris’s mum, to say that Parris was really inspired by the Able Writers Day and has just finished her first book, a gripping ‘memoir’. I am totally thrilled to hear this, and wish Parris all the best in her onward writing journey. It’s exciting when a young person gets fired up about any sort of creativity, especially story writing.

I read Parris’s book and enjoyed it so much, I gave it a five star review on Amazon. Here’s a link to Parris’s book and my review: From Parris to London

Able Writers Days are coordinated by Authors Abroad, in association with Brian Moses.

The breakout novel and writerly obsession

I used to obsess about writing the breakout novel. ‘When I write The Breakout,’ I used to think, ‘then I’ll stop drinking instant coffee and start drinking real coffee.’ I was living in the future, and obsessing about the idea of what my legacy as a writer would be.

Which is ironic, because my favourite poem has long been Ozymandias by Percy Shelley. ‘I met a traveller from an antique land, who said Two vast and trunkless legs of stone stand in the desert…’ The poem conveys the fleeting nature of human power, fame and achievement. ‘Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair.’ Too right. (I used to recite the poem to my daughter Liberty when she was a colicy six-week old, to try and pacify her. Probably just made it worse.)

So imagine my delight to find these colossal disembodied fingers at the Amman Citadel this morning. Along with one sorry-looking elbow, they are all that remains of a thirteen metre high statue of (probably) Hercules. I am so grateful to Shannon O’Donnell for her permission to reproduce her wonderful pictures here.

photo by Shannon O'Donnell
photo by Shannon O’Donnell

Beside the fingers of Hercules stands the Jordan Archaeological Museum. It’s full of treasures. For me the highlight was seeing the mindmeldingly ancient Ain Ghazal statues, the oldest statues ever made (circa 7000 – 10000 BCE). Some have one head, some have two. The significance of the two-headed ones is not known. I just love their expressions.

photo by Shannon O'Donnell
photo by Shannon O’Donnell

As I walked back down Citadel Hill, I remembered STACKS, a David Harper art installation, and perhaps a literary equivalent to the fingers of Hercules. Stacks is a homage to trees and to the environment, but it also reminds me that ‘of the making of many books there is no end’. The grass grows around the bookshelves, as it does around the fingers of Hercules.

stacks

Let’s live and love and write while we still can. And if the ‘breakout novel’ never comes, that’s okay! Hercules and Ozymandias can testify that breakout isn’t necessarily all it’s cracked up to be anyway.

Jihad etc.

In March 2012, my friend Mohammed Ciise came to visit me at home in Djibo, Burkina Faso, on the southern edge of the Sahara Desert. His face was grave.

‘A time of violence is coming,’ he said. ‘Many of my people in Mali will flee Timbuktu and come to stay with my family here in Djibo.’

‘Many of my people’ turned out to be an understatement. Over the course of the following weeks, Mohammad’s hospitality was tested beyond breaking point by the arrival of fifteen thousand Tuareg refugees on overloaded lorries and bush-taxis. The women and children set up their makeshift tents and prepared themselves for a long stay. The men returned to Timbuktu to fight the Malian army.

This was not the first time that Tuareg rebels had taken up arms in the name of independence, but the difference in 2012 was their ill-judged alliance with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Mahgreb (AQIM) and other militant jihadi groups. Within a week they had invaded and captured Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu, the three most strategic desert towns in Mali. As soon as the jihadis were in control of these towns, they betrayed their Tuareg brothers in arms and forced them to leave.

The invaders imposed a harsh form of sharia law on the townspeople of Timbuktu, not unlike what we are seeing in parts of Syria and Iraq today. Music, dancing and football were banned. The full veil was enforced for girls over the age of ten. Men and women were forbidden from talking in public. Famous shrines to the medieval holymen of Timbuktu were destroyed in iconoclastic fervour.

Across the border in Burkina Faso, my Muslim friends and neighbours shook their heads in dismay. ‘Those AQIM fighters are not fit to call themselves Muslims,’ they muttered. ‘A thug who prays five times a day is still a thug.’

‘They are not thugs,’ piped up a young Qur’anic student sitting in the marketplace. ‘They are good people, applying God’s law to the letter. In the name of God, hear this: I hope they come here and do the same in Djibo.’ On hearing this, a small group of bystanders turned on the hapless student and beat him soundly for hoping such a thing. ‘Islam is not a violent religion,’ they told him.

During thirteen years of living amongst Fulani Muslims in Burkina Faso, I saw hundreds of Osama bin Laden T-shirts, but very few of the wearers were actually in favour of waging war on infidels. My family were welcomed warmly and we made close friends. We attended naming ceremonies, weddings and funerals. I spent many hours sitting on grass mats with Muslim religious teachers, finding acres of common ground as well as expected points of difference.

I did meet a few jihadi sympathizers. They were usually ‘garibous’, teenage boys who had been sent far away from home to study with a Muslim religious teacher. These lads spent their days collecting firewood, making ink, and begging door-to-door for food. They spent their nights writing and reciting Qur’anic verses around a roaring fire.

I remember talking one afternoon with Mustafa, Ali, Boureima and Adama, four garibous from the far north-east of Burkina Faso. They were warm, good-humoured lads, whose conversation ranged from goat-herding to religion to the fortunes of Real Madrid. But one afternoon, when the conversation turned to the subject of 9/11, these good-hearted boys were oddly jubilant. ‘Praise be to God for the victory of our brothers,’ cried Ali. ‘Did you see the towers fall? It was glorious.’

Ali and his friends had swallowed a ‘Clash of Civilisations’ narrative, which in their eyes was entirely compatible with the Book they had been memorizing.

I protested, of course, and tried to make my brothers see sense. I encouraged them to imagine what that day was like for the families of those who died, including the families of the hijackers. Imagination is a powerful tool. Within five minutes Ali declared fervently that the killing of innocent civilians in the Twin Towers was every bit as inglorious as the killing of innocent civilians in US drone attacks.

I do not imagine that the task of deradicalisation is always so easy. I doubt I would have lasted long in Al-Qaeda occupied Timbuktu. But in the case of Ali and his friends, it helped that I spoke their language and that I had spent many hours in their company, drinking gunpowder tea and herding pygmy goats with them. It also helped that I knew their families and that I spoke from a vantage-point of faith myself.

My recent book BLOOD & INK is set in occupied Timbuktu and is narrated from two alternating viewpoints. Ali is a shepherd boy who has become addicted to the adventure of jihad. Kadija is a daughter of Timbuktu who loves singing and dancing, even though such things are outlawed by the radical new regime. The novel charts their relationship from straightforward enmity to something approaching love.

Authors of YA are not known for shying away from controversial themes. Today, with young people in Britain facing real risk of radicalisation, we need more and better YA books about the battle for the soul of Islam. We need books that will subvert the Clash of Civilizations narrative and replace it with a more nuanced understanding, maybe even hope. Imagination is a powerful tool.