Archives for category: school visits

Twitter is a wonderful way to make new friends. Recently a head teacher I follow drew my attention to a knitted puffin that a Glasgow teacher had put up on Twitter. She thought it looked very like one of the characters of my puffin books, Lewis Clowns Around and Harris the Hero.

Knitted puffin by Susan Quinn.

Knitted puffin by Susan Quinn.

I was impressed, and wondered if Susan the clever knitter would be able to create a fluffy grey puffling to go with me on school and nursery visits when I’m reading my new puffin story, Skye the Puffling. Through Twitter I was able to chat to Susan about what Skye should look like, and show her the lovely illustration by Jon Mitchell:

Skye coverSusan immediately set to work, and soon I was able to see my little puffling taking shape! Not being a knitter myself, I was baffled by the complex knitting instructions she seemed to be following. A fluffy little grey thing began to emerge…

knitting-skye-1Next she sent me a little bird shape and I could imagine a very cute, fluffy puffling who looked soft and snuggly:

knitting-skye-2Finally, Susan sent me a picture of Skye with eyes and a beak, with the message, “only the feet to add.” Little Skye was soon finished, and Susan and I agreed to meet up so I could repay her with three copies of my puffin books.

knitting-skye-3My fluffy Skye has already come with me to a Bookbug Library Challenge event at Drymen Library, and she was very well received! I’ve got another event tomorrow at Alloa Library, and Skye will be coming with me again, to be sure.

fluffy-skyeI was very touched by Susan’s generosity, and it was a real pleasure to meet her for a chat as we exchanged puffins. Many thanks to Joyce Hawkins who first alerted me to Susan’s impressive knitting talents!

Cute knitted cactus plants I spotted at fnac bookshop in Barcelona.

Cute knitted cactus plants I spotted at fnac bookshop in Barcelona.

While I was on holiday in Spain another knitted item caught my eye. It was a pair of soft and squishy cactus plants with brilliant care instructions: “Cactus of extremely slow, almost imperceptible growth. Easy to care for, simply give abundant morning smiles.” As my daughter is a huge cactus fan, I took a photo of them to show her. I’m glad I did, as it meant I could show the same photo to Susan. I thought she could easily knit a cactus and find a pot for it, and sure enough, she had already done it!

Susan Quinn's cactus.

Susan Quinn’s cactus.

It seems there is no end to what you can do with knitting needles! Susan is already thinking about Christmas…

squinn-tree

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March 3rd 2016 is World Book Day, and in schools and libraries across the country everyone is getting involved in the celebrations! To get kids reading, National Book Tokens have teamed up with publishers and booksellers to give everyone in school a free book of their choice. The £1 book token can be used in bookshops to buy any of the following excellent options, or you can use it to get £1 off another full-price book or audio book.

2016 book titles from the World Book Day website

The 2016 £1 book titles from the World Book Day website

On Thursday the 3rd, lots of people will also be dressing up as their favourite book character and donating funds to Book Aid International to send much-needed books to libraries in Africa. If you’re looking for last-minute dress-up ideas, check out their World Book Day Dress-Up webpage. Over the past 60 years, Book Aid International has sent 31 million books to African countries. Here’s a great video they have created called The Journey of a Book which shows every stage, from the initial printing of a book to its arrival in African schools, libraries and universities.

Book-related activities are happening all this week, and lots of children’s authors like myself are visiting schools and libraries to share their stories. I had a great time on Tuesday visiting the P3 and P4 classes at Darnley Primary School. I brought Lewis, Harris and Skye for a fun puffin-themed writing workshop. The puffin toys got a great reception (lots of ooos and ahhhs) and the children enjoyed a sneak preview of Skye the Puffling which comes out in a week or two.

puffin holiday plan

On Thursday I’ll be visiting Holy Cross Primary School, where authors and other interesting characters (such as North American hockey players and Scottish movie stars) are invited every World Book Day to share their favourite children’s book with a class. I’m going to read Gabrielle and Selena by Peter Desbarats, first published in 1968. The illustrations are in black and white and the text is quite long, so it’s very different from picture books you see nowadays. But the story is clever and very funny, so I’m sure the children will enjoy it!

A friend of mine works in a nursery, and she has invited me to come on Friday and read to the three- and four-year-olds she looks after. I’ll choose my simpler books, like One Potato, Clementine’s Smile and Never Bite a Tiger on the Nose to entertain the little ones. It’s lovely to have a chance to nurture a love of books with very small children. The sooner they discover the joys of reading a story, the better their chances of reading for pleasure when they grow up.

If you’re looking for ideas to celebrate books this year, have a look at the Big Book Off on the World Book Day website where you’ll find suggestions like making a book-based game, discovering a new author or illustrator, creating a picture of your favourite scene from a book, or acting it out for an audience! There are also lots of online games on the Play and Win page, where you can answer questions about Harry Potter or go on a Young Bond secret agent mission, among many other games. Time to get reading! Happy World Book Day!

Who can resist a troll? Photo ©Andrew Dunsmore/Rex

Who can resist a troll? Photo ©Andrew Dunsmore/Rex

The P2 classes at my Patron of Reading school, Comely Park Primary, are looking at the 1960s (“When Gran was a girl”) this term, and it just so happens that I am a 1960s baby. It’s a bit scary to think that I could be a grandmother, since my own kids are just teenagers, but I am looking forward to visiting the school in April to share my memories of those Olden Days!

I was thinking back to my favourite toys when I was very young, and thanks to Google Images I was able to find all sorts of them to show you! I couldn’t resist that troll picture above. Trolls were hugely popular in the early ’60s and I remain a big fan. Who could resist such a face? In researching this topic I have just learned that the first troll doll was carved from wood by a Danish man called Thomas Dam. He made the doll for his daughter but soon everyone wanted one, so he made more and more until he had to set up a factory!

One of my earliest memories from my childhood was a trip my parents went on when I was about six and my little sister was four. We stayed with our grandparents for a week, and when our parents came to collect us, they brought us each a very special present!

Skipper dolls

Everyone knows about Barbie, but have you heard about her little sister Skipper? My sister and I got identical Skipper dolls with bendable knees and long auburn hair. I really wish I had kept mine, but sadly she is lost now.

Easy Bake oven

Another thing I remember very well was my Easy Bake Oven! It came with little packets of cake mix which I would put in that red bowl and mix up with a bit of water. I’d pour the mixture into the steel baking tray and then slide it into the side of the oven. Amazingly, the little cake would bake with only the heat of two incandescent light bulbs! It was like making one fairy cake, but it really did seem like magic!

tiny rubber dolls

Another toy I used to love playing with was a tiny rubber doll, only 3 inches (8cm) high. She had jointed arms and legs, was very bendy and could fit in the palm of my hand. She looked just like the ones in the picture above, with her painted face and hair, and little painted shoes and socks. Apparently these were made in Germany back in the 1960s. Can you still buy them today?

Silly Putty

I also remember a little plastic egg that broke open to reveal some strange pinkish goo that was stretchy and soft (a bit like blu-tack). It was called Silly Putty and if you rolled it into a ball it would bounce! You could also flatten it out and press it down on a newspaper or comic and it would pick up the ink, creating a picture on the Silly Putty that you could stretch out of shape. Once you’d done that it got a bit dirty, though!

fancy rat

When I think of it now I’m amazed that my Mum allowed Silly Putty in the house. Even more surprising is the fact that I was allowed to have a pet rat! Her name was Whiskers and I think we rescued her from a science lab. Whiskers was very clever and she loved to run through the mazes I used to make for her out of a cardboard box. I let her wander all around the house, and she was easy to pick up and play with. The only time she ever bit me was when I stuck my finger in her cage with some peanut butter on it. “Ouch!” I yelled, pulling my finger away. And then for some reason I tried again, and this time she licked the peanut butter very carefully!

slinky

Another fun thing we had was a Slinky. I think you can still get those, so maybe you have one too. In the 1960s they were always made of metal and were quite heavy. This made them perfect for sending down the stairs, because the weight of the coiled metal would hold the “foot” of the slinky in place as the top flipped over to the next step. The only problem with a Slinky is that it is easily bent and even more easily tangled. Once that happens it is sadly never the same.

Monkees

When I was young I loved watching cartoons on a Saturday morning. I watched Bugs Bunny and the Roadrunner and lots of other shows, but my favourite one of all wasn’t a cartoon – it was a comedy show about a boy band called The Monkees! They were always doing silly things and getting in trouble, and of course on every show they would sing a song. To this day I still think Daydream Believer is the best song they did, but perhaps I’m a bit biased because Davey was my favourite of the four.

Gabrielle cover

I’ve already written about my favourite book I read as a child. You can see more about Gabrielle and Selena HERE. I still have my copy of the book (rather old and battered now) and I am looking forward to reading it to a new generation of children who are learning about life in the 1960s!

As I have already mentioned, Book Week Scotland brought me all sorts of invitations to visit primary schools recently. Two of those schools were in Linlithgow, a lovely town half-way between Glasgow and Edinburgh. It has a distinctive church with a spiky metal spire, and next to that is a medieval palace! I always see these two impressive buildings from the train as I pass, but it’s a rare treat to be able to stop and have a look around.

This handsome and distinctive building is St Michael's Church.

This handsome and distinctive building is St Michael’s Church.

St Michael’s Church dates from the 15th century and is the largest surviving late Medieval  “burgh kirk” in Scotland. The aluminium spire replaces a stone crown similar to the one atop St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh, and it wasn’t universally popular with the locals when it was added in 1964.

Linlithgow palace

Next to St Michael’s is Linlithgow Palace, the birthplace of Scottish King James V and his daughter Mary, Queen of Scots. It is also a late Medieval building and stands in beautiful grounds. A fire destroyed the roof of the palace and the interiors in 1746. The palace is open to the public and the “peel” or park surrounding it runs down to the shores of Linlithgow Loch, where you can go sailing in summer.

Linlithgow Loch in summer.

Linlithgow Loch in summer.

Doesn’t it look inviting? Sadly, it wasn’t looking quite so pretty in December. I’ll just have to make another trip when it gets warm again!

Mary Queen of Scots

Just along from the palace on the High Street is the Annet House Museum, where a bronze statue of Mary, Queen of Scots stands in the terraced garden. The High Street has lots of historic buildings, including Annet House which was built in 1787 as a wealthy merchant’s family home.

Madding Crowd logo

When I arrived in Linlithgow for a recent school visit I walked down from the train station to the High Street. My first port of call was a lovely bookshop called Far from the Madding Crowd (named after a Thomas Hardy novel). Its owner, Jill Pattle, showed me all around the shop (full of beautiful crafts as well as books) and we went downstairs to the children’s section where I signed a beam on the ceiling with a gold pen! She has asked lots of children’s authors to do the same, so I felt very important!

Low Port Primary

Next we went to Low Port Primary School, which is an impressive Victorian building that used to be a senior grammar school. It has pointy turrets and handsome stonework, making it seem very like something out of Harry Potter! I was ushered to a modern addition at the back of the school which looks out onto Linlithgow Loch. There in a big, comfortable classroom I read stories to 62 pupils (P2 and P3) and then shared some videos of Pink the Musical on their interactive white board. By the end, they were singing along!

I’ve now visited Low Port, Linlithgow Bridge and Springfield Primary Schools, and they are all fantastic! Many thanks to Jill for suggesting me for Book Week Scotland this year. It’s been an absolute pleasure and I hope to be back in Linlithgow before too long!

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Book Week Scotland (25 November to 1 December 2013) is only in its second year, but already it is a hugely popular fixture in the literary calendar. This year over 600 events have been taking place in schools, libraries and community centres across Scotland, with author visits, competitions, book launches and art projects celebrating the joys of reading and writing.

Like many authors, I’ve been having a great week visiting schools and sharing my books with lots of enthusiastic children! On Monday I travelled to Kirknewton Primary in West Lothian. I spent a brilliant day reading all my picture books to nursery and P1 children in the morning, and then more nursery and P2 children in the afternoon. They were all so well behaved and had lots of great questions for me! Kirknewton is a fantastic school and Mrs Fletcher was a very kind and thoughtful host.

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On Tuesday I spent the afternoon with all the lower primary pupils (P1 to P4) at Flora Stevenson Primary School in Edinburgh. It was the first time I had used high-tech sound equipment and a computer connected to a big screen, so we had a few technical hiccups at the beginning! Luckily there were expert teachers on hand and the children were very patient. Flora Stevenson has a strong emphasis on musical education, so I was asked to help inspire the children to write in verse and set their poems to music. This is something I enjoy very much, so it was a great pleasure to share two of my songs from Pink! the Musical and teach them the actions for “It’s Fun to be a Penguin.” Many thanks to Mrs Broadley and Mrs Brennan for inviting me!

Four children were dressed as the main characters from the stories: Officer Tod, Gallus the craw, Hooley the hoolet and a little old lady.

Four children from Comely Park Primary dressed as the main characters from their own books: Officer Tod, Gallus the craw, Hooley the hoolet and a little old lady.

On Wednesday I took part in the P4 Big Book Bash Book Launch at Comely Park Primary in Falkirk. Comely Park is my Patron of Reading school, and I had been involved early on in the creation of two Gallus and Hooley adventures with the P4 classes. You can read more about the development of both stories, written in English and Scots and beautifully illustrated by the children, HERE. The book launch was a brilliant success, attended by parents, grandparents and friends. Chris Leslie from the Scottish Book Trust, Elaine Webster from Scottish Language Dictionaries, Yvonne Manning from Falkirk Libraries and Tony Bragg, Falkirk’s Quality Improvement Officer were all there to help celebrate the children’s achievement.

My next Book Week Scotland event is a visit to Low Port Primary School in Linlithgow. I’m looking forward to meeting the P2 and P3 pupils and having a fun-filled morning talking about pink penguins, pet walruses, heroic puffins and crocodile toothaches!