Archives for category: classroom resources

Kohinoor watercolours

For her 18th birthday this year, my daughter received a Koh-i-noor watercolour set of a very clever design. It has four round discs, each with six colours and a depression in the middle for mixing. The discs screw together, one on top of the other, so that the whole set is about the size of a can of tuna when closed.

The gift was a surprise from her Dad, who got it in London on the advice of an artist friend. When she opened it I think I was even more thrilled than she was, because it was just like a paint set I had at her age! Mine was green rather than black, but otherwise it was exactly the same. I loved that set and used it for years, and until now I had never seen another one like it.

In senior school I loved working with watercolours, and the art teacher was happy to let me get on with painting what I wanted to with my own stackable watercolour set. I had a special Chinese paintbrush too, dark red with soft bristles that came to a perfect point.

Chinese brushes

These Chinese brushes are designed for calligraphy, and the bristles are made from weasel tails or goat hair. The top brush in this photo has soft goat hair, and the bottom one is a mixture of goat and the coarser weasel hair. I think my brush was a mixture too, though it was a long time ago and the brush is long lost. When I was 17 I used a photograph from the National Geographic magazine to paint this Inuit child:


The rich colours of my special paint set made it possible to get those warm skin tones and deep black of the shadows. My Chinese brush with its fine point allowed me to capture the loose hair on the child’s forehead.

There is nothing like working with real paint on real paper. But more and more these days, artists are turning to computers to produce very similar results that can be shared electronically and reproduced countless times. Many children’s books that were once illustrated the “old fashioned” way with pen and ink or other traditional media are now being brought to life digitally instead.

A good example of this trend is the work of my friend and illustrator Margaret Chamberlain. She has been illustrating children’s books for over 20 years, and when she first illustrated one of my books (Pink! in 2008) it was a departure for her into a new technique and simpler style. Her earlier books had always been done with richly detailed ink and watercolour artwork. An excellent example of this is The Enchanted Flute by Angela McAllister:

©Margaret Chamberlain 1990

©Margaret Chamberlain 1990

The central character of this story is an impossibly demanding monarch, Queen Pernickity, who wants only the very best of everything. You can see from the illustration above that Margaret has created texture and lots of detail with a fine ink outline and rich colour using watercolours.

In her later work, Margaret used computer programmes and a tablet to create effects that look just like watercolours and ink. She says it takes much less time working on a computer, and it’s easy to correct mistakes. The finished illustration is very similar to real paint on paper, and it can be sent directly to publishers and printers to produce a finished book.

So is there any future for real paint and paper?

Another recent invention, the WaterColorBot, has reversed this relationship between art and computers. Instead of computer art replacing paint and paper, this machine translates art drawn on a computer into “real” art through a mechanised process similar to an Etch-a-Sketch:

©Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories 2013

©Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories 2013

The paintbrush moves around an x and y axis (two metal rods) powered by pulleys and wire cables. In this way a drawing made on a computer can be reproduced multiple times, and the WaterColorBot becomes a type of printer. The idea began with a 12-year-old girl called Sylvia who wanted to make a robot for a science fair. She has her own website, Sylvia’s Super-Awesome Maker Show, where she demonstrates fun creative projects. When she took her idea of a painting robot to the people at Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories they were happy to help out!

My daughter is still keen to experiment with real ink and watercolours, and has done a few sketches with her new paint set:

©Anna Rickards 2014

©Anna Rickards 2014

©Anna Rickards 2014

©Anna Rickards 2014

Even though technology seems to have made real paint and paper somewhat obsolete, I’m quite tempted to buy myself a little Koh-i-noor paint set too…

©Lynne Rickards 2002

©Lynne Rickards 2002

Photo ©

Photo ©

Today is the 11th day of the 12th month, 2013. People are getting quite excited about it, as this sort of sequence won’t happen again in the calendar for another 89 years! (The next one will be 01/02/03 on the 1st of February, 2103). You can even add the time into the sequence. If I’d been a bit quicker I could have written this post at 09:10 on 11/12/13!

It’s fun looking at patterns like this in birthdays and other important dates. Maybe you have a good birthday with an interesting number. I know a little girl who was born on 11 August 2011, so her birth date is 11/8/11. My grandmother was born on 11 May 1905, which is 11/05/05. What if you were born on September 9th, 1999? Then your birth date would be 9/9/99. The 3rd of March 2003 would give you 03/03/03!

My own birthday isn’t one of those special ones, but I like looking for patterns in the numbers I come across (for example, when I look at the number of visitors to this blog). Recently I reached over 44,000 visits and I thought it would be great if I could catch the counter when it reached 44,444. Sadly, it happened in the middle of the night, so I missed it! Then I thought, I’ll just wait until it gets to 45,678. But somehow I missed that too. It’s now over 46,000, so it will be a long time until another interesting number comes along. What shall I try for? Maybe 54,321

Apparently lots of people will be getting married today for good luck. A retired science teacher in America called Ron Gordon is very interested in quirky dates, and he is offering a cash prize of $1112.13 for the best celebration today. Back in 1981 he invented “square root day” (on the 9th of September, since 9 x 9 = 81). There is another square root day coming up in a few years’ time: 4 April 2016. I wonder if he’ll be offering any more prizes! He is also looking forward to “trumpet day” on 2/2/22.

In honour of today’s date I thought it would be fun to share some number games. There is one called Kaprekar’s Sequence which goes like this: 1) think of a two-digit number (they must be different numbers); 2) reverse the digits for a new number; 3) subtract the smaller number from the larger one; 4) repeat several times with different numbers and see if you can spot a pattern emerging in the results. Here are a few examples:

85 – 58 = 27   32 – 23 = 9  62 – 26 = 36  91 – 19 = 72  53 – 35 = 18

(Hint: what are all the results a multiple of?)

Here’s a great website full of number patterns and games you can play. It’s called Maths is Fun! It will explain triangular, square and cube numbers. I didn’t know numbers came in so many shapes!

Do let me know if you have a quirky number for your birthday. There must be lots of you born in the first decade of this century (2001 to 2010 on the 1st of January, 2nd of February, 3rd of March and so on…) I want to hear from you!

Breaking news! I’ve finally caught a great number on my viewing statistics (and it only took until 9.10.14 to happen:

all sixes

fire-police-ambulance logo

Since I started working with Hopscotch Theatre in Glasgow I have been invited to dress rehearsals of all their new school productions. Recently I went to see my brilliant mother penguin Louise Montgomery performing as a police officer in Fire! Police! Ambulance! There was a big audience of parents and children, and we sat around four sides of a raised black-and-white platform stage. As the actors did a lot of singing and dancing, I was nervous that someone would fall off! Luckily nobody did.

999 song

The main character is a teenage boy called Peter who tends to panic at the slightest problem. Jason Park plays this role with plenty of energy, running at full tilt in one direction and then another at each new “crisis.” His father, who is played by Wullie Brennan, is very patient with his over-excited son as he tries to explain the difference between a real emergency and something less important.

Police caution

Through the course of the performance (about 55 minutes in all), young Peter learns all about the three emergency services. First is the police, and the constable teaches him the first lesson about what to do in an emergency: the number to call. All three actors break into a brilliant performance of the 999 Song, and they teach the audience to sing the chorus.

Peter and fireman

Next Peter spends some time with a firefighter and an ambulance driver (also played by Wullie Brennan) and learns what kind of emergencies require their help. Peter’s father has a new job answering the phones at the Emergency Services call centre, so Peter also learns how important it is NOT to dial 999 for a joke.

lifesaving dummy

The production was written by Raymond Burke (both words and music) and it’s full of action, great songs and silly humour to keep a young audience fully engaged. The actors interact often with the audience, and the valuable information the children learn is conveyed brilliantly through rhyme and repetition in a fun way.

In addition, teacher Mark McLaughlin has produced some excellent Classroom Resources for schools which can be downloaded free from the Hopscotch website. This way teachers can reinforce the main points of the show later in the classroom. All in all, a brilliant show!

PINK! logo

After many months of planning and preparation, Pink! the Musical set off on a 12-week tour around Scottish primary schools at the beginning of March. The yellow Hopscotch Theatre van is now zipping across the land, perhaps to park up in a playground near you!

Hopscotch yellow van

There are three delightful actors who play all the parts in the show. Craig Anthony-Ralston plays Patrick, the central character who is very upset when he wakes up one morning to discover he has turned pink. Craig has a lot of songs to sing, and he always wows the audience when he walks across the stage on his hands! (Or should I say flippers?)

happy Patrick

photo © Deirdre Hannon

Patrick’s Mum is played by Louise Montgomery, who sings a sweet lullabye to send Patrick to sleep. You can see in the picture below she is singing about the stars twinkling up high in the sky. Louise also plays Patrick’s best friend Arthur who tries to comfort Patrick about his terrible predicament.

louise lullabye

Lucy Avison has to be three different penguins! She plays Patrick’s Dad, his other best friend Lulu and Doctor Black who can’t figure out how to fix Patrick’s mysterious pinkness. To show the difference between all of Lucy’s characters, the designer Socks Rolland looked at the illustrations of Pink! by Margaret Chamberlain and chose some simple props to give each one. So the Dad has big round glasses, a bow tie and a newspaper, the doctor has 1950s glasses and a stethoscope, and Lulu wears a bright yellow bow on her head and carries a school satchel.

photo © Deirdre Hannon

photo © Deirdre Hannon

Here is Lucy as the Dad. You can see how simply the character can be changed with just a few little adjustments. Here she is again as Doctor Black, tending to poor worried Patrick:

photo © Deirdre Hannon

photo © Deirdre Hannon

The other challenge for Socks the designer was how to create a flock of flamingos. With only three actors to work with, this would prove rather tricky… Because he is pink, Patrick decides to swim to the southern tip of Africa where he thinks he might fit in better with other pink birds. The flamingos are perfectly polite, but poor Patrick struggles to do anything they can do.

meeting flamingos

Here is Patrick meeting the flamingos for the first time. Socks has made their long necks and curvy beaks beautifully, and they look very much like the illustrations in the book. The little pink tutus give an impression of the flamingos’ bodies, and Lucy and Louise move the heads around as though there are four birds talking to Patrick.

flamingo dance

As you can see, Patrick is very frustrated that he can’t do anything flamingos can do, so he decides to leave Africa behind and swim back home again. His friends are delighted to see him, and he gets to tell the whole class about his adventures.

Pink finale

In the end, Patrick discovers that being different is okay, and that his friends love him no matter what. The three penguins lead the children in a final rendition of the Fun to be a Penguin song with actions. Most schools are able to listen to the song in advance so that the children already know it when the show comes to their school.

song with actions

At today’s performance at Bearsden Primary School the children really enjoyed singing along and waving their arms with Patrick and his friends. After every show, the schools fill in feedback forms to help us make improvements and identify our strong points. Here are some of the comments we’ve had so far:

Just a few of the brilliant comments we've had so far!

Just a few of the brilliant comments we’ve had so far!

Each school that books the show also receives a Pink Resource Box with lots of goodies inside. These include a copy of Pink!, a CD of all the songs with the lyrics, fifteen resource sheets for classroom activities on a diversity theme, and a little beanbag fish to use in Circle Time as the “speaking toy.”

Pink cover blog

speaking fish

Click HERE to go to the Hopscotch Theatre website. There is also a short video on YouTube about the show produced by actor and filmmaker David Goodall, which you can see HERE.

Finally, I must thank Creative Scotland for the generous grant that made Pink! the Musical possible, as well as Sense Over Sectarianism and the Robertson Trust who have each funded an extra four weeks of touring to bring the musical to thousands more children this spring. The Gordon Fraser Charitable Trust has also funded performances in ten primary schools in Inverclyde. With all this support we are reaching out to children across the country to help them learn to respect difference and celebrate diversity. I hope one day we can make bullying of all kinds a thing of the past.

photo © Deirdre Hannon

photo © Deirdre Hannon

Lewis Clowns cover

Every once in a while I get a little reminder of why I have the best job in the world. Today I received three lovely packages in the post. The first two were addressed to Lynne Rickards (author) and were decorated all over with whimsical puffins. Inside I found 48 letters and 15 fantastic drawings from the P2 classes at St Matthew’s Primary School in Bishopbriggs! Their teacher Mrs Hannah explained in a note that they had been reading Lewis Clowns Around and using my Puffin Pack to learn all about the circus.

Lewis drawing

Here is one of the fabulous puffins the children drew on the outside of those two manilla envelopes. As you can see, there are some talented artists at St Matthew’s Primary! The children all wrote to tell me how much they enjoyed my book, and many of them asked me if I would come and visit their school. How can I possibly resist?

Grace's letter

All the children’s letters were beautifully illustrated with so much imagination! I was also very impressed with their handwriting, as they are all only six years old. They told me about their favourite part of the story (such as when Lewis flies up to rescue Karla koala at the top of the tent). I was very pleased to learn that not only is there a Lewis in the class, but there is also a Carla! She told me her favourite part was when she saw her name in the book.

Eran's puffin

Eran sent me this brilliant drawing of Lewis the clown, with his pompom buttons and colourful beak. I think it looks just like him. He’s clearly in a hurry, but he’d better watch where he’s going or he’ll trip over those big clown shoes!

Olivia's circus tent

Olivia decided to draw the stripy circus tent. She has cleverly remembered to add the ropes that hold the tent up, so it won’t fall over or fly off in the wind.

I sat for a long time looking at all the children’s letters and drawings, thinking how lucky I was to be a picture book author. Who else gets such wonderful surprises in the post? And then I remembered the third envelope. It was from my publisher, and inside was a copy of my new book, Harris the Hero. This story follows on from Lewis Clowns Around, and is all about Lewis’s brother who sets off on an adventure of his own.

Harris the Hero cover

This is another rhyming story and it’s beautifully illustrated by Gabby Grant. In the last book she had to draw all sorts of circus animals, from flying blue monkeys to balancing pandas, but this time she has drawn the many birds and animals that live on the east coast of Scotland. These include puffins, guillemots and seagulls that perch on the rocky cliffs.

birds on cliff

Gabby has also drawn seals, otters, dolphins, fish and one eider duck! All of these creatures come to Harris’s aid when he finds a little lost seal who is stuck in Anstruther Harbour. When Harris and the little seal start to struggle against giant waves, the other friends all come together to help bring the seal home again.

Harris and seal

I can’t wait to share my new book with all the children who have enjoyed Lewis Clowns Around, starting with the P2 pupils at St Matthew’s Primary School! I wonder if there’s a Harris in the class…

Harris in flight