Archives for posts with tag: anti-bullying

This Christmas my family and I went to Canada. Along with the woolly jumpers and big mittens under the tree, we found some very special gifts this year. They came from Plan Canada and were not for us but for children and families in developing countries.

school essentials

My daughter’s gift was for one child to have school supplies, including textbooks and pencils, and funding for school meals and teacher training. These are things we take for granted in our well-equipped schools, but without them education is impossible.


My gift was funding for an anti-bullying project which provides training for children, parents and teachers about the rights of the child. It includes “Speak out boxes” into which children can post their concerns and experiences so that issues of bullying can be discussed and dealt with. This gift was chosen specially for me because of my anti-bullying story, Pink.

clean water

My husband’s gift was clean water for families. In many  parts of the world the water is not safe to drink, and this is the most essential gift of all. These three gifts all came from the same Plan Canada Gifts of Hope website, and there are lots more amazing gifts to choose from.

Apopo rat 2

The final gift for my son was a surprising one. It was a rat! Even better, a HeroRat who sniffs out landmines in fields and open spaces where war has ravaged crucial arable land. This is an initiative started by a Belgian organisation called Apopo which trains and uses rats to find land mines in former war zones in Mozambique, Cambodia, Thailand and Angola.  They can also be trained to detect tuberculosis in a lab setting, which speeds up diagnosis and saves lives.

Rats are very intelligent animals (I know because I had a pet rat as a child) and they are light enough to be able to find a land mine without setting it off. This helps prevent the terrible injuries people suffer when trying to cultivate land or collect water or herd cattle on mined fields. The Apopo rats have all got names (like Oprah, Pink and Jolie) and they look quite cute in their little harnesses. Maybe someone you know would like a HeroRat too!


EdBookFest logo

I had a great time at the Edinburgh Book Festival this summer, reading Pink! to a big audience of pre-schoolers and their families with the help of three very talented singers. While I read the story, Sophie Williams, Hugh McKay and Anna Cooper entertained the audience with all the songs from Pink! the Musical.

Pink 2

My three brilliant penguins all study at St Mary’s Music School in Edinburgh. Not only are they excellent singers, they also play instruments (Sophie plays violin and Hugh and Anna play cello). As you can see, they wore penguin hats for our show, and Hugh was dressed in pink as the central character in the story. They all did a fantastic job, so I want to say a big THANK YOU to Sophie, Hugh and Anna!

We had lots of fun singing all the Pink! songs, and at the end everyone in the audience joined in with the Fun to be a Penguin song!

Pink cover blog

Pink! is the story of a little penguin called Patrick who is very upset when he wakes up one morning to find he has turned pink overnight. His friends all tease him and the doctor can’t fix him so he goes on a journey to see if he’s better off living with pink flamingos in Africa. As it turns out, penguins and flamingos couldn’t be more different, so he swims home again to a big welcome from all his friends and family. In the end, Patrick decides that being pink is okay after all.

Birlinn logo

Recently Pink! has been republished by a small London publisher called Wacky Bee Books. They are a great group of people who have been really supportive of all my books. If you visit their website you will see an activity page dedicated to Pink! which includes video clips of the story and fun games and puzzles to download.

signing tent

After our show, Sophie, Anna, Hugh and I made our way to the signing tent, where I sat and signed books and the singers posed for photos with members of the audience. It was lovely to meet lots of children and ask them if they enjoyed singing the penguin song. They were pleased to discover both the book and the CD in the Children’s Bookshop at the festival! It was great to think that lots of children would be singing along with Patrick in the car on the way home!

blog CD cover

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

A while back my friend Lari Don mentioned me in her blog called The Next Big Thing. This is a sort of game invented by another author, in which we each take a turn answering a set of questions about our next book or creative project, and then we list five other authors whose work we admire.

Each of those five authors does the same thing, linking to the blogs of five more authors, and all of them link to five more authors… and before you know it, there are thousands of us talking about the Next Big Thing! At some point we’ll run out of authors, but in the meantime, here are my answers to those Next Big Questions:

What is the working title of your next creative endeavour?

I’m currently working on Pink! the Musical, based on my best-known picture book (illustrated by the talented Margaret Chamberlain).

Where did the idea come from?

The original book was inspired by my daughter, who came up with the concept of a penguin who turns pink. She had no more story than that, but I thought Pink! was a brilliant title for a book and set about writing it immediately. The idea of turning it into a musical came when I was listening to an interview with Sir Tim Rice (lyricist for many celebrated musicals). He said that not many people were writing original musicals these days, and I suddenly thought, WHY NOT?

Give a synopsis of the story.

Patrick the penguin, teased and taunted for being pink, swims all the way to Africa in search of other pink birds. He soon discovers that he can’t do anything flamingos can do and that penguins, whatever their colour, belong at the south pole. He gets a hero’s welcome from his friends who have missed him and are amazed to hear about his exotic travels. His pinkness long forgotten, Patrick is home at last.

How will Pink! the Musical be produced?

Thanks to a generous grant from Creative Scotland, the musical will be produced by the Hopscotch Theatre Company which has been bringing high quality pantomimes and children’s theatre to schools across Scotland for over 20 years. I have been working with their expert manager Susan McGregor, experienced director Ross Stenhouse and talented musical director Alan Orr to create a 40-minute show for children aged 4-7. Professional set and costume designers will soon get working on puffy penguin suits and antarctic scenery. The show will be toured in 80 primary schools across Scotland starting in April 2013.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters?

This production will have three actors, two male and one female, to play six parts: Patrick, his two friends Arthur and Lulu, his Mum and Dad and Doctor Black. Hopscotch Theatre have all sorts of talented Scottish actors to choose from, and I’m sure they will have brilliant singing voices. If Pink were a West End or Broadway musical I would choose Marcus Brigstocke to play Patrick!

How long did it take you to write the manuscript?

The original picture book took several weeks of thought and redrafting, and the musical script will go through three drafts before it is ready to go to rehearsal. Transferring the picture book text to drama dialogue has been easier than I imagined. It was hugely helpful to go through the first draft with Ross Stenhouse and Lynsey Murdoch to get a sense of how the story could be best transferred to the stage. I have been really impressed by the talent and professionalism of the Hopscotch team, so I’m delighted that they agreed to embark on this project with me!

What else about the project might pique your reader’s interest?

The main purpose of Pink! the Musical is to bring an important message to young children (in a fun and entertaining way) that we are all “different” in one way or another and that we should treat each other with kindness and respect.

Now, here are a few more authors of note:

Teresa Flavin began as a fine artist and picture book illustrator, but recently discovered she has a brilliant talent for telling a gripping story! Her first book, The Blackhope Enigma, and its sequel The Crimson Shard are both published by Templar Books (UK) and Candlewick Press (US) and have been hugely popular. Watch for a third book in the series very soon…

Sara Pinto is another brilliant author/illustrator with a distinctive style and lots of quirky ideas. After publishing a number of beautiful ABC and counting books, she collaborated with Beatrice Colin to write a comical chapter book, My Invisible Sister, and produced a series of animated shorts called Quiet Is… for Disney Kids.

Janis Mackay is a Scottish writer and storyteller whose first book Magnus Fin and the Ocean Quest won the Floris Books Kelpies Prize in 2009. Two further Magnus Fin books followed and she has a new book coming out this spring called The Accidental Time Traveller. But I should let her tell you about that!

Cathy MacPhail is a force of nature. Her boundless imagination and huge enthusiasm for sharing stories makes her a big hit at her many school visits and festival appearances. She is particularly drawn to ghostly and suspenseful plots, and her Tyler Lawless series, about a girl who sees dead people, is excellent. She is an inspiration!

Theresa Breslin is another brilliant writer of award-winning historical fiction for teens. She’s written over 30 books, including Divided City which was adapted for the stage and performed to huge acclaim at the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow. Her first book, Simon’s Challenge, was filmed for television, and Whispers in the Graveyard won the highest honour in the UK for children’s writing, a Carnegie Medal. To top it all, (like all the other writers on my list) she is a fantastic lady!

A while back I heard an interview on the radio with Sir Tim Rice, who has written the lyrics for many famous musicals (Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, Jesus Christ Superstar, The Lion King and Evita, among others). He was talking about the brilliant musical Matilda (based on the Roald Dahl book and written by Tim Minchin) and said there weren’t many people writing new musicals these days.

And that got me thinking…

Pink! (illustrated by the wonderful Margaret Chamberlain) has been used widely in primary schools across the UK and abroad to help children think about how it feels to be different. Lots of kids can relate to Patrick the misfit pink penguin, and it suddenly occurred to me that the story would make a great musical!

I decided the best way to make this happen was to ask a children’s theatre company to help me. It didn’t take long for me to find the perfect one: Hopscotch Theatre Company have been bringing fun musical productions to schools across Scotland for many years, and they were very excited about working with me to bring Pink! to the stage.

But mounting a new production takes money, for writing the script and the songs, designing and making the costumes, creating the sets and props and paying the actors and the director to rehearse the show and then take it on tour. We decided to apply for a grant from Creative Scotland to help us.

We spent weeks putting together our proposal and filling out the application form. Then we had to wait another month to hear what the decision would be. And to our huge delight, they said YES!

I am now officially working with the lovely people at Hopscotch Theatre Company to turn my picture book Pink! into a fabulous new musical that will bring a gentle anti-bullying message to children aged 4 to 7.

I’ve already written a first draft of the script and have really enjoyed tackling the challenges of bringing the story alive with actors. How will their penguin suits work? How can we get Patrick to turn from a normal black-and-white penguin into a pink one? How can we make a flock of flamingos fly off into the sky?

I would tell you, but perhaps you should wait until PINK! the Musical comes to your school!