GlendaruelA little while back I received a wonderful package of letters from Kilmodan Primary School, a two-classroom schoolhouse in a tiny rural community in Argyll, Scotland. There are only thirteen pupils in the school, and the surrounding countryside is very beautiful. The river above winds through Glendaruel quite close to the school, and the harbour below is Colintraive where some of the pupils live.

Photo ©

Photo ©

The eight P1-4 pupils and their teacher Ms Hawkins had been reading my two puffin books, Lewis Clowns Around and Harris the Hero in class, and they each wrote a lovely invitation to Lewis the puffin to come and visit their school tearoom in September. Along with the letters, they enclosed photos of their impressive classroom display of puffin drawings and a fantastic seabird scene. Sadly, Lewis was on tour with the circus in Canada in September, so he couldn’t manage a visit. Instead, he sent each of the children a postcard from Toronto and told them all about his adventures. Since then, Ms Hawkins has been tweeting about Lewis and Harris on her school Twitter account, and she gave me an idea…

puffin holiday planLewis and Harris are back together now, as the circus is taking a little break. On Sunday the two brothers decided to fly off to Ayrshire to visit Blairquhan Castle, as it was a lovely sunny autumn day. They found a picture of the castle in a book and thought it would be great fun to go exploring there.

arrival castleWhen they arrived, it looked just as impressive as the picture! The enormous wooden door stood open in welcome, so Lewis and Harris hopped up the steps and went inside. They were very impressed by the big, beautiful rooms and all the paintings on the walls. One painting showed a rather large family playing out in the countryside:

big paintingAnother painting was of a little girl holding a pet rabbit. Lewis and Harris got up near the painting to get a closer look. They thought the rabbit looked a bit worried.

puffins and rabbitNext they visited the library. They had never seen so many books in one place! The little spaces in between felt just like a puffin’s burrow in the cliff.

libraryNext they wandered into the dining room, where they found a strange bird. It was a pheasant, but for some reason it refused to talk to them. Eventually they gave up and left him alone. What a rude fellow, they thought.

puffins and grouseLewis and Harris ventured up some very grand stairs and found a big four-poster bed with tartan drapery. Next to the bed was a lamp with another animal – this time a handsome stag made of metal. The puffins flew up to the bedside table to take a closer look.

stag lampIt was clear this one was not going to talk, but they thought he made a lovely lamp. Blairquhan Castle was a great place to visit, but it was getting late and Lewis and Harris needed to get home. On their way out they stopped in the grand ballroom and spotted a very special ice cream cart. What a funny thing to find in a castle!

ice cream cartThey asked the man what he was doing there, and he explained that this was an open day for people who wanted to have their wedding at the castle. He offered a free taste of his special wedding ice cream, and Lewis and Harris couldn’t say no!

ice cream choicesLewis liked the look of Rhubarb and Ginger, and Harris went for Yummy Watermelon. They were delicious! Ice cream was a perfect end to a great day out, and it gave them lots of energy for the long flight home. I wonder where Lewis and Harris will go next?

pumpkin tableWith Halloween approaching, we thought it would be fun to have a pumpkin-carving party. Thirteen Chinese students came to our house, where I had carefully covered our dining room table with newspaper and gathered a collection of paring knives and big spoons. Luckily they brought a few knives of their own, as well as a nice assortment of pumpkins.

There isn’t a tradition of Halloween in China, so I tried to explain the origins of this pagan festival. I think it began in Ireland hundreds of years ago, when people celebrated the Celtic festival of Samhain. This was long before electric lights, so as winter approached at the end of October only fires could fend off the cold and dark. On the last night of October the Celts believed that the souls of the dead could join the living, and to keep these spirits happy they left food and drink for them outside their houses. There was feasting and celebration, and to avoid being tricked by the mischievous spirits, people disguised themselves in masks and costumes when they went out after dark.

It wasn’t until the 20th century, when Irish immigrants who had settled in America began reviving this autumn festival, that the Halloween we know today began to develop. In time, Halloween became a big part of all North American children’s childhoods (including my own!) I remember dressing up to go out “trick-or-treating” and coming home to count the hoard of sweets I had collected. When we moved to England in 1971 I was very disappointed to discover on October 31st that Halloween was quite unheard of there!

Now, over forty years later, Halloween has really taken off in the UK thanks to its huge popularity in North America. Witches and vampires and black cats are everywhere, and costume shops are doing a roaring trade just now! The supermarkets are heaving with pumpkins, although apparently it’s been a bad crop in England this year, thanks to too much rain. Here in Scotland we have plenty, and so we got carving!

pumpkin guttingThe first step in carving a pumpkin is to cut a hole in the top to make a lid. The stem of the pumpkin makes a perfect handle, and if you cut an irregular-shaped opening it will be easier to fit the lid back on. Star shapes were very popular with our Chinese guests, so this pumpkin has a nice star lid. It’s important to cut the lid on a slight angle towards the stem. That way the lid will sit on the top rather than falling into the hole. Next you have to dig out all the “guts” which is a messy, slimy business! Make sure you have lots of newspaper underneath before you start.

pumpkin gutsIf you want to, it’s possible to separate and wash the pumpkin seeds and toast them in the oven. The familiar green pumpkin seeds you can get in the supermarket are inside those white husks. For a recipe for toasted pumpkin seeds, click HERE.

tiger face 1The next step is to draw your pumpkin’s face with a pencil. Choose the smoothest, cleanest side to work on. The pumpkin above was getting a tiger face, including whiskers and a Chinese symbol on its forehead meaning “king of the world”!

tiger face 2You can see this tiger pumpkin is coming along nicely. Other students consulted their iPhones for ideas on what sort of face to carve. There were some amazing results, like this very toothy character:

toothy pumpkinHere is another one with a starry-eyed grin:

big pumpkinWhen all the pumpkins were finished, we got out the little tea light candles and turned out the lights. Having a box of very long matches is crucial, as the only way to light the candle inside is to reach in through the mouth. It was a challenge, but we got them all lit, with dramatic results!

jackolanternsAnd here is the tiger, burning bright!

tiger burningHappy Halloween, everyone!

toothy grins

The 8th of October is National Poetry Day, and this year’s theme is Light. The first thing that came to my mind was Shel Silverstein’s poetry collection, A Light in the Attic.

Copyright ©1981 by Evil Eye Music Inc.

Copyright ©1981 by Evil Eye Music Inc.

Shel is one of my favourite poets, and he was a brilliant artist too. His crazy pen-and-ink cartoons complement the humour and quirkiness of his poetry perfectly. This particular collection has quite a few poems that use light imagery, including a fanciful one about catching the moon in a net:

Copyright ©1981 by Evil Eye Music Inc.

Copyright ©1981 by Evil Eye Music Inc.

Another of his more thoughtful poems is from an earlier collection called Where the Sidewalk Ends. It features a “lovely silver prince of fishes” that you can imagine sparkling in the sunshine:

Copyright ©1974 by Evil Eye Music Inc.

Copyright ©1974 by Evil Eye Music Inc.

Poetry plays a big part in my life as I write a lot of rhyming stories. It must be thanks to the influence of my favourite children’s books when I was a child, including all the Dr Seuss stories and the poems of AA Milne. I have been working on a new collection of poems following the lives of children around the world from first waking, through the day and ending at bedtime when the light goes out. Here is the second-last poem which features bedtime stories with Dad:

Copyright ©2015 Lynne Rickards.

Copyright ©2015 Lynne Rickards.

My two puffin picture books (Lewis Clowns Around and Harris the Hero) are about to become a trilogy! These are my best-loved rhyming stories about brothers Lewis and Harris, two puffins who couldn’t be more different. The third in the series, published by Floris Books, is all about the fluffy little baby puffin you can see on the last page of Harris the Hero. Her name is Skye and she has some pretty hair-raising adventures herself!

Skye cover

This third book has a new illustrator, Jon Mitchell, and I am delighted with the way he captures the fluffy little puffling and her parents Harris and Isla. Watch out for Skye the Puffling in bookshops this spring!

There are lots of ways to get involved in this year’s National Poetry Day. BBC Radio 4 is featuring poets and actors reading and talking about poetry all day, and the Guardian is calling for people to dedicate a poem to someone they love. Get poetic and get involved!

A few weeks ago I got an email from a publishing company in India called Grapevine. They had seen my portrait of Anne Frank (published on this blog) and wondered if I would allow them to use it on the cover of their edition of The Diary of a Young Girl. I was happy to accept!

The Grapevine India edition of Anne Frank's diary.

The Grapevine India edition of Anne Frank’s diary.

It was very exciting to receive a package some time later with five copies of the book. This is the first time my artwork has been used as a cover illustration, and it got me thinking about cover art more generally. What makes you pick up a book? Can you buy a book with a hideous cover? (I find that tough.) Have you ever bought a book just for its cover? In spite of the famous saying, it’s very hard not to judge a book by its cover!

A retelling of Helen Bannerman's classic tiger story, illustrated by Fred Marcellino.

A retelling of Helen Bannerman’s classic tiger story, illustrated by Fred Marcellino.

Here’s an example of an irresistible cover illustration, done by the talented illustrator and cover designer Fred Marcellino. Little Babaji is such an intriguing character, sitting proudly on that tiger, you just have to open the book and read!

Clearly that is the objective of every book cover. Some are more successful than others. With children’s books, we all have our favourite illustrators, but books for adults also have to grab the reader’s attention and have visual appeal. Designing a book cover is a very special talent!

One hundred classic Penguin book covers in a box shaped like a book!

One hundred classic Penguin book covers in a box shaped like a book!

Now it’s possible to own 100 book covers from a variety of classic publishers, just to appreciate the designs. They are printed on postcards and fill a box that looks like a big book. The first of these was Postcards from Penguin, with classic book covers from the 1940s through to the 1990s.

Ladybird boxOther collections have appeared in the same format since, including Postcards from Puffin (children’s books) and Postcards from Ladybird (1950s learning-to-read books). Faber and Pelican book covers can also be found in 100 postcard boxes, as well as Beatrix Potter illustrations and photos of famous authors. Clearly, cover art is very much appreciated these days!

This summer my daughter Anna found an unusual job illustrating a story about a mermaid, so her work will soon grace the cover of a book too! The mermaid and her friends are fed up with all the rubbish people are leaving on the beach, and the book is designed to teach children to keep the environment clean. Here’s a little sneak preview of the mermaid and her friends (otter, seagull, crab, seal and sandhopper among others):

Illustration ©Anna Rickards 2015.

Illustration ©Anna Rickards 2015.

The endpapers are also going to be beautiful, with a seaside theme:

Illustration ©Anna Rickards 2015.

Illustration ©Anna Rickards 2015.

The book will be published by An Lucht Lonrach in Scotland. You can visit their website for more information on the mermaid book.

Happy reading!

subway entranceOn our second day in Toronto, my son and I hopped on the Yonge Street subway line to head down to the Harbourfront area. The subway system has been expanded since I lived in Toronto, and now reaches further in all directions. A good deal simpler than the London Underground system, the Toronto subway has two main lines: the yellow one goes North-South in a big U, and the green one goes East-West along Bloor Street.

Toronto Subway map showing the three lines. Map ©TTC.

The Bloor/Danforth line has been extended north at the eastern end. It ended at Kennedy when I lived there. So I see a new blue line and also a little purple one that wasn’t there before! These go out into the suburbs. Downtown Toronto is the area served by that lower part of the U.

The subway trains have also changed a great deal since I was last in Toronto. Now they are sleek and open with no divisions between carriages. They were revamped in 2010 and now look similar to New York subway trains.

The new Toronto subway trains were launched in 2010. Photo ©TTC/Mike DeToma.

The new Toronto subway trains were launched in 2010. Photo ©TTC/Mike DeToma.

The platforms are clean and modern, and signposting is pretty clear. You can get a transfer to travel on a bus or streetcar once you come out of the subway, but remember to get it at the station where you start! Look for the red transfer machines.

Photo ©blogTO/Derek Flack.

Photo ©blogTO/Derek Flack.

Inside, the trains look great but the seats are a bit hard. Plenty of room for standing though, and you can walk down the full length of the train.

Photo ©blogTO/Derek Flack.

Photo ©blogTO/Derek Flack.

There are regular announcements at each station and a set of arrows on the overhead display shows which side to exit on. There is also a clever illuminated map of the subway network with a green light indicating the train’s current location. Red lights show the route you are on and where you will go next.

So, all this to say we took a subway train down to Union Station, where we took a short walkway south to the Harbourfront. I hardly recognised the place, as so many new hotels and highrise condominiums had been built in the past 20 years! We were meeting a friend at the Queen’s Quay building, but I had some trouble finding it in a forest of glass and concrete towers.

queens quay condoThe Queen’s Quay Terminal building was originally a warehouse on the waterfront, but was converted to luxury condominiums in 1983. Back then it was virtually the only one of its kind, with lovely terrace restaurants on the quayside and a landscaped walkway behind. A nearby powerhouse was converted into an art gallery in those early days of cultural transformation.

Now there are a huge number of attractions, including a dog and cat centre, the Purina PawsWay, where pets are welcome to take in exhibits (such as the Animal Hall of Fame) and events like obedience training and obstacle races. Not being pet owners, we didn’t venture in.

Giant bronze pets welcome you at the PawsWay at Harbourfront. Photo ©Purina PawsWay.

Giant bronze pets welcome you at the PawsWay at Harbourfront. Photo ©Purina PawsWay.

Instead we had a lovely walk along the waterfront and a great meal with our friend on a sunny terrace. The next stop was the CN Tower, but when we arrived it was so crowded that we would have had to wait two hours to go up, so we decided against it. My son had forgotten his glasses anyway, so Toronto from the air would have been a blur!

We decided to stroll up Yonge Street, the longest street in Canada at 58 km. We had only travelled a few blocks when we came past the Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre, a handsome Edwardian double theatre built in 1913 by Marcus Loew and designed by Thomas W. Lamb.

Photo ©Elgin Winter Garden Theatre.

Photo ©Elgin Winter Garden Theatre.

Originally designed for vaudeville, the lower Elgin Theatre was a sumptuous gilt and red velvet hall where silent films were introduced, and later it was adapted as a mainstream movie house.

The Elgin Theatre has been in continuous use since 1913. Photo ©Elgin and Winter Garden Theatres.

The Elgin Theatre has been in continuous use since 1913.
Photo ©Elgin and Winter Garden Theatres.

The separate Winter Garden Theatre is located seven stories above the Elgin, and is a whimsical creation with its hanging beech branches and twinkling lanterns.

The unique Winter Garden Theatre has tree-like columns and hanging leaves. Photo ©Elgin and Winter Garden Theatres.

The unique Winter Garden Theatre has tree-like columns and hanging leaves.
Photo ©Elgin and Winter Garden Theatres.

This theatre was aimed at a more discriminating audience but it also featured vaudeville shows. When these declined in popularity the Winter Garden Theatre closed, and lay unused for 65 years. In the 1980s both theatres were restored by the Ontario Heritage Foundation. In the upper theatre, volunteers spent many months rolling the painted walls and boxes with raw bread dough to remove the soot. This was the only way to clean them as they were painted with simple water-based paints.

The boxes and stage surround are painted with trellis and roses. Photo ©Elgin and Winter Garden Theatres.

The boxes and stage surround are painted with trellis and roses.
Photo ©Elgin and Winter Garden Theatres.

We had intended only to pop in and look at the lobby with its lovely stained glass doors, but we ended up going on a 90-minute tour! A very lucky discovery, and much more interesting than the CN Tower, as it turned out.

The entrance to the Elgin, with beautiful stained glass doors. Photo ©Elgin and Winter Garden Theatres.

There is so much more to see in Toronto that we must try to get back very soon. I’m going to make a list and be a bit more organised next time!


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