News & views

Some events in 2016

For my e-interview with the Letterpress Project, click here.

This year’s World Book Day got me out of my ’writing hole’ to meet young people in Caterham, Farnborough, Cobham (all south of London) and in Birmingham. It was such a pleasure sensing their enthusiasm and openness to entering the new worlds that books can offer.  Here is a glimpse of my writing workshop at Caterham School.

Immediately after my WBD visits, I set off for an International Conference ’Challenging Reading’ at the University of Münster, Germany, to read from my short story collection Out of Bounds In addition to the satisfaction of offering ’Storytime’ at an academic conference, I was able to meet up with some old friends, including Junko Yokota, the inspiring director of the Center for Teaching through Children’s Books at National Louis University, Chicago. Junko is currently researching at the International Youth Library in Munich – somewhere I still need to visit. I also made new friends, such as Andrea Mei-Ying Wu, children’s literature specialist at National Cheng Kung University, Taiwan. Andrea (below) and I were soon sharing our passion for crossing boundaries of heart and mind, including through laughter!

Illustrator Piet Grobler and I are delighted by the news that the Children’s Africana Book Awards Committee in the USA has named Who is King: Ten Magical Stories from Africa a Best Book for 2016. The Smithsonian National Museum of African Art in Washington, DC will host the awards’ ceremony in October.

It is a privilege to have been nominated again by the Society of Authors’ Children’s Writers and Illustrators Group in the UK for the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award – and to be in the company of South Africans Piet Grobler and Niki Daly as well as Biblionef, a fine organisation promoting books and reading.  Last year’s ALMA wonderfully went to the organisation PRAESA (Project for the Study of Alternative Education in South Africa) which is dedicated to transforming children’s literacy experiences in a multitude of languages. Do read Carole Bloch’s moving acceptance speechand her special tribute to PRAESA’s founder Neville Alexander.  She also tells us why Neville loved, as she does, Oscar Wilde’s The Happy Prince. 

I spent two weeks in April/May meeting young Palestinians who had read Journey to Jo’burg and Chain of Fire in their Arabic translation by Samar Qutob. It’s a rare treat for a writer to spend time with their translator and it was wonderful to be accompanied by Samar in the West Bank schools and libraries. I was also accompanied by Jehan Helou from IBBY Palestine, joint sponsor of my visit with Tamer Institute of Community Education in Ramallah and British Council Palestine. I found the visit moving and deeply educational and you can read a short account here.  I came away with huge admiration for how the people I met have held on to their dignity and humanity while under a military occupation. I am still absorbing what I saw and learned on this visit but you can read my response to my first visit 16 years ago here. The picture below was taken with children of Rawdat El-Zuhur (’Garden of Flowers’ in Arabic) school in East Jerusalem.

In July, I spent a fascinating day with children from Grafton Primary School at the Museum of Immigration and Diversity @19PrinceletStreet in Spitalfields, London. The museum is run by volunteers and in dire need of funding for restoration. It is the kind of place where I could easily hear voices from the past within its walls. In the picture below, we are in the old synagogue which had once been the back garden of a Huguenot house.

19 Princelet Street is only a few blocks away from the street where my mother’s father was born. I know this from a copy of the 1901 census which also documents that his parents had been born in Russia and were Russian ’subjects’.  I visited the address and found a primary school with a garden where once there must have been a row of narrow terraced houses. It was much better than finding one of the huge blocks of offices or apartments that seem to be taking over the East End.

Two of my books have recently been reissued with splendid new covers. Penguin Random House has included No Turning Back (still in print after 21 years) in its new YA classics series The Originals.

…and here is Journey to Jo’burg in Collins Modern Classics.