Visit to Solmaid Community School in Dhaka, Bangladesh

I arrived in Bangladesh today, and had the pleasure of visiting Solmaid Community School, a low-cost school run by Bangladeshi teachers for 130 children from their own community, with some support and training provided by expat teachers from the International School of Dhaka. This unique partnership seems to be bearing good fruit. The school currently has a waiting list of over 600 children.

Over the next few days, I shall be doing some talks and workshops for ISD students. But first some sleep – I’ve been awake for thirty hours now, and am feeling as goggly as a goggle-eyed goat.

Read to Feed 2016

I’m collaborating with the Read to Feed project this year, which is organized by the fabulous charity Send a Cow. The project is about nurturing children’s love of reading, raising awareness of Africa’s diverse cultures, and giving families a helping hand to lift themselves out of poverty. Do please like and share this video so that plenty of schools get to know about this fun new initiative. Being given a goat (even a naughty one) can really help a family to make ends meet.

Timbuktu to Mopti – what became of the Mali I love?

from Timbuktu to Mopti - Goggle eyed Goats and Hacking Timbuktu

Both in my picture books and in my teen fiction, I have written about the Malian towns of Timbuktu and Mopti. In THE GOGGLE-EYED GOATS Al Haji Amadou makes the trip from Timbuktu to Mopti overland to sell his five naughty goats. In HACKING TIMBUKTU the unscrupulous fugitive Moktar Hasim comandeers a fishing boat and makes the same journey, this time on the water.

I have never been to Timbuktu, but last year I had the chance to visit Mopti. It’s a fascinating and ancient town built on three islands in the River Niger. The ancient port still acts as an important trade hub, particularly for the huge slabs of salt brought in from the Sahara Desert. Here is thirty seconds of footage from my trip, just to give an impression of what Mopti looks like:

Sadly, as I write this, Timbuktu is unrecognizable, and Mopti too. Earlier this year, Tuareg rebels and Islamic extremists took over Timbuktu. The Tuaregs were fighting for the creation of the independent Tuareg state of Azawad, but their Arabic-speaking brothers in arms had a very different vision: the establishment of Sharia law across the north of Mali (an area the size of France) and the consolidation of a military stronghold capable of launching attacks on a degenerate Western world. By the time the Tuaregs realized the awful truth, it was too late. As the following video shows, the banks in Timbuktu have been looted and heritage sites destroyed. Hospitals are short-staffed. Public schools have been closed and will not re-open until the curriculum is changed according to Islamic values.

The government’s soldiers in Timbuktu and elsewhere put up little resistance – they were outflanked, outgunned and outnumbered, and they quickly withdrew. Now all eyes are on Mopti. The islamic militants in Timbuktu are threatening that the ancient port is next on their list of targets, and are preparing to make the journey from Timbuktu to Mopti.

Timbuktu to Mopti. It’s the innocent picture book journey undertaken by Al Haji Amadou and his goats. It’s the swashbuckling treasure hunt journey undertaken by Moktar Hasim and his pursuers. But this time it’s for real, and it will not be on foot or by boat but overland in stolen Toyota Landcruisers loaded with rocket launchers and heavy-calibre mortars. I am sickened that the beautiful land of Mali, a storybook land in the best possible sense, is now being violated by fanatics who have no respect for history, culture or human life.

In Mopti, a poorly-armed but determined militia awaits. These are not goverment soldiers, these are plucky civilians desperate to reclaim their ravaged country. The New York Times ran an interesting piece on the Mopti front line earlier this month. Realistically, their prospects are not good.

I rang our home town in Burkina Faso last week and spoke to my friend Hama and to local pastor Ali. ‘We have never seen anything like this,’ said Hama. ‘Everyone in town is talking about Mali’s troubles, and there has been violence as close as Boni on the Burkina-Mali border. Alla hoynu tan (May God make it easier).’

I hope that one day I will again be able to write about Mali as a proud, peaceful country where naughty goats raid pumpkin patches and fishing boats parade the mighty Niger river. But until Timbuktu is restored to its rightful landlords, magical Mali will seem a very dark place indeed. Certainly not a place to take children to.

Amanda Craig GOGGLE-EYED GOATS review

Amanda Craig reviews the Goggle-Eyed Goats by Stephen Davies and Christopher Corr

Amanda Craig’s Easter recommendations in the Saturday Times contained a pleasing review of THE GOGGLE-EYED GOATS. Some lovely-sounding words in there. Ebullient, anybody? Rumbustious?

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“Easter always brings a fine clutch of tales about chicks, pups, lambs and eggs. While the list of classic picture books remains small, good new ones are as welcome as spring. They need to withstand repeated rereading so don’t go for the obvious.

The Goggle-Eyed Goats (Andersen £10.99) is an ebullient tale by Stephen Davies and Christopher Corr. Old Al Haji Amadu lives in Mali with three wives, seven children and five extremely naughty goggle-eyed goats that munch, gobble and chew whatever they can find, which includes his wives’ clothes. Getting rid of the goats, classic embodiments of a child’s interest in food, becomes pressing. But the children protest and follow their father to market. The book’s rumbustious, rhythmical feel for language, packed with internal rhymes, makes it a pleasure to read aloud, and the colourful pictures of the Amadu family and their surroundings have the unselfconscious charm of primitive art. The ridiculously long-lashed goggle-eyed goats have a small surprise to spring on their exasperated owner. One of the best new picture books published this year, it should be read before the Easter Egg hunt, not after!”

Joyful and Dotty – Goggle-Eyed Goats review

Fama Rama and Sama - three wives in THE GOGGLE-EYED GOATS

‘Joyful and dotty’ was Julia Eccleshare’s opinion of THE GOGGLE-EYED GOATS over at Lovereading4kids. She also calls it ‘the ultimate triumph of pester-power’! I hadn’t realized that, but I guess she’s right. Hey ho, at least she didn’t call it ‘the ultimate triumph of polygamy’.

GOATS has been chosen as one of the Lovereading books of the month.

If you’re still waiting for your Amazon copy, fear not – their supply problems are being sorted out and your book should be with you on Monday or Tuesday at the latest.

THE GOGGLE-EYED GOATS book trailer

I blogged the other day about goat herding on World Book Day. Seemed like a good opportunity to make a little trailer for THE GOGGLE-EYED GOATS.

Meanwhile, back in London, a goat party was taking place. Look out for Christine Baker, editorial director of Gallimard Jeunesse, better known as the woman who brought Harry Potter to France!

The Goggle-Eyed Goats have launched!

Goggle-Eyed Goats by Stephen Davies and Christopher CorrSome of the most popular posts on this blog are from my blog series The Making of The Goggle-Eyed Goats. So I am pleased to announce that THE GOGGLE-EYED GOATS hardback is now well and truly launched! A flash launch happened at the Rowley Gallery in Notting Hill last night. A less flash launch happened in the north of Burkina Faso yesterday lunchtime, where Charlie and I celebrated quietly with a plate of spaghetti at the auberge overlooking the lake. I had spent half the morning herding goats with my friend Abdulsalam, so I was in a very goaty (caprine? capricious?) mood. Radio/admin work has been quite full-on recently, so it was nice to get back to the bush and hear nothing but Abdulsalam’s gentle banter and the delicious sound of thirty goats munching pedal-pods.

Goat herding is not typically thought of as a good stress-reliever – people here talk of it as something of a nightmare assignment because goats are so wayward – but it’s very enjoyable when you know that the goats are not your own responsibility! I like carrying the long hooked staff and shaking down pods for the goats to rush in and chomp and listening to the kissy-clicky sounds of the real herders as they call their ruminants to order and stepping on a chilluki twig and feeling a thorn go right up through my sandal into my – no, wait, that bit I don’t like.

We’re having a proper Burkina launch for GOATS on 12 March in Ouagadougou, to be held at the International School of Ouagadougou. Reading, book-signing and goats-cheese-pizza-eating. If you can’t make the event, you can still pick up a copy of THE GOGGLE-EYED GOATS at Amazon or elsewhere.

You are invited to the London book launch of The Goggle-Eyed Goats with Christopher Corr

The Goggle-Eyed Goats will be launching in London (Andersen Press) and Paris (Gallimard Jeunesse) on World Book Day, 1 March 2012. The Burkina Faso launch will be a little bit later – probably 12 March – in Ouagadougou.

The London launch will be at Rowley Gallery in Notting Hill, starting at 6pm. Signed copies will be on sale as well as original artwork from the book, plus other pieces by Christopher Corr.

Be there or be a cross-eyed goat.

Goggle-Eyed Goats to Launch on World Book Day

The Making of a Picture Book Part Five: Synergy

This is the last in this week’s blog series on how to write a picture book. Whether you are a published picture book author, an aspiring picture book author or a simply-curious, I hope that you have found one or two morsels of useful advice over the course of this series. I am no picture book expert – four written and only two of those accepted for publication – but I am passionate about the subject and eager to learn more. A good picture book is an object of beauty, a carousel of colour, a smorgasbord of delights and an excellent birthday present for a hard-to-buy-for niece.

Elmer the Elephant by David McKee

If you are still catching up, here are links to the previous articles: The Making of a Picture Book Part One: Plot, Part Two: Character, Part Three: Language and Part Four: Illustration. And today in Part Five we will be celebrating Synergy.

Synergy. Hmm. Don’t worry, I’m not going to assault you with strategic staircases, idea cascades, low-hanging fruit or similar management-speak monstrosities, but I do think that synergy is a meaningful word for describing the development of a picture book. Synergy is when the combined creative energies of several people enable a whole to be more than the sum of its parts.

In Wednesday’s post I made the idiotic assertion that that the success of WE’RE GOING ON A BEARHUNT was ‘all thanks to Michael Rosen’. No one picked me up on it, you’re all far too kind, but the statement was untrue. The original conception of the book may have been down to him, but the success of the book was due also to the fantastic illustrator Helen Oxenbury and to many other people, foremost of which would have been the Australia-born editor of the book Wendy Boase. Wendy was co-founder of Walker Books and remained editorial director until her death in 1999. She is a legend in her own right and is the Boase in the prestigious Branford-Boase award. This prize, which goes to a debut author and his/her editor, is in itself a celebration of synergy, an acknowledgement that the creation of great children’s books is a team sport.

Also involved in the creation of WE’RE GOING ON A BEAR HUNT were goodness knows how many designers, printers, publicists and assistants – not to mention something called a ‘repro house’ which designer Beccy Garrill describes in her fascinating comment on yesterday’s post. So if all the four-year olds in my social circle now chant ‘Swishy, swashy’ whenever they walk through long grass, it’s the fault not just of Michael Rosen but of a whole gang of literary and artistic wizards.

Here’s another example of synergy. Rona Selby editorial director extraordinaire at Andersen Press emailed me to say, ‘We like GOGGLE-EYED GOATS and we’d like to publish it, but the final spread needs more work – the story needs one final twist.’ Rona has edited enough picture books in her time to have acquired an unerring instinct for such things. If she says it needs a final twist, it does.

‘I need one final twist,’ I wailed that evening, weeping bitterly into my mushroom stroganoff. ‘I need one final twist and I don’t know where to find it.’
‘What about this?’ replied my wife Charlie. ‘Al Haji Amadu returns home from Mopti market and he turns to count the goggle-eyed goats, only to find that [censored by the Spoiler Police].’
‘Marry me,’ I said.

I consult Charlie now in all matters relating to final twists – and similes, which she is also very good at.

Synergy is like a good cheese or a good wine. It matures over time – that’s why authors become attached to a particular publishing house or form a long-lasting partnership with a particular illustrator. Daniel Kirk asked lots of librarians (not sure of the collective noun – a hush?) to name their favourite author/illustrator partnership. Here are their collected responses:

Allard / Marshall, Brown / Hurd, Clements / Selznick, Cronin / Bliss, Cronin / Lewin, Dahl / Blake, Estes / Slobodkin, Hest / Barton, Lester / Munsinger, Lewis / Kirk, London / Remkiewicz, Minarik / Sendak, Numeroff / Bond, O’Conner / Glasser, Palatini / Cole, Palatini / Egierlski, Palatine / Fine, Rylant / Stevenson, Scieszka / Smith, Slate / Wolff, Stewart / Small, Wick / Marzallo, Wilson/ Chapman, Yolen / Teague Yorinks / Egielski

I would want to add to that list two of my personal favourites: Willans/Searle and Willis/Ross. Do add your own favourites in the comments section below, but stick to author/illustrator partnerships. Save Starsky / Hutch for the Digital Spy forums.

Talking of Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross, you may remember that in Monday’s Plot article I was fumbling around trying to think of picture books which could be classed as ‘Tragic’ – characters that are undone by their own fatal flaw and end up meeting a sticky end. Well, it seems that Willis and Ross have thoroughly cornered the market for such stories – this book Sticky Ends came out just last week! Being of a morbid turn of mind, I can’t wait to get hold of a copy and read it to my daughter.

Sticky Ends by Jeane Willis and Tony Ross

Well, it’s time I brought this post – and this series – to its own sticky end. Writing things down really helps me to clarify my thoughts about a subject, so now I want nothing more than to rush off and write a picture book. I hope you feel inspired as well! Incidentally, if I were to do a sixth article in this series (which I’m not) I would write about Patience. I submitted THE GOGGLE-EYED GOATS in July 2004. It will be published in March 2012. Always keep the faith.