Archives for the month of: October, 2015

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

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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!