Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival

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Sheena and I are back from a visit to Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival. I have to admit I had mixed feelings when we were first approached, by our publisher, with the offer to visit the United Arab Emirates. It is no secret that opinions on attendance at literary festivals in UAE have proved divisive within the UK children’s publishing world.

The ‘Think Twice’ campaign headed up by two prominent book lovers in the book community calls for UK authors and illustrators to boycott the Emirates Festival of Literature, a Dubai government initiative, on the grounds that the sponsors of the festival violate human rights and have no regard for climate change. Whilst their campaign targets the Emirates Festival of Literature and not the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival in particular, much of their agenda felt significant to our upcoming trip.

I have always felt strongly that I would try never to turn down visits to schools, libraries and festivals. Boycotting events seems, in my mind, only to serve as self-censorship. Ultimately our visits aim to bring the joy of reading, illustrating and story-writing to children, at an age when they’re developing their taste for literature and we, as authors, have a chance to help build readers for life. Whilst the ‘Think Twice’ campaign gave me food for thought, I questioned how a potential boycott would serve to vocalise my thoughts. Rather than a boycott, I wanted to see for myself what the festival was about and have an open dialogue about the very valid issues raised by the ‘Think Twice’ campaign.

We arrived in Sharjah on Tuesday and were straight off to an after school club for children at the American University of Sharjah the following day. We ran a villains illustration workshop and created a brand new story for Dave Pigeon and Skipper that took the feathery pair on an adventure through a junkyard into the lair of a killer pigeon, who was keen to eat Dave, and out through a secret tunnel into the woods.


Later that evening, Sheena joined a panel discussing the role of illustration and the importance of visual literacy, with May Tobias-Papa and Linda Abdel Latif.

It was interesting to see how the role of illustration was changing with new media, particularly as the Philippines seemed to embrace new technology for children’s literature in a way that seemed light years ahead of the UK. Worldwide there was common consensus that illustrators needed to be recognised in the same way that writers are and that there is someway to go in recognising the role of an illustrator as a co-author, especially with regard to picture books.

The next morning Sheena and I visited the Gems Millennium School in Sharjah and met the kindergarten children and the pupils of both Year One classes.

The children helped us create not one but three brand new villains before working on their own illustrations of baddies to terrify their teachers with.
I then joined Frane Lessac, Latifa Batti and Mohammed Ghobashi, back at the festival, in a panel where we discussed our books and the universal importance of passing down stories from generation to generation and creating a passion for reading by telling stories to children in a nurturing way.

Turning the pages of a book with a child, in the lap of a parent or grandparent or trusted elder, seemed to be common ground around the world for turning youngster into readers for life.

All the while the thoughts of the ‘Think Twice’ campaign churned over in my mind and the panels proved the perfect opportunity to broach an open dialogue about these issues.

Both Sheena and I talked about how shared reading allowed children to find out about a world beyond their own, to experience cultures and talk about issues of war, immigration, refugees and female empowerment in a way that felt comfortable and natural to them. All the panellists agreed that publishers should take risks in dealing with this kind of subject matter, matter that could be deemed difficult to sell, but the truth is there is a demand for these books. Reading creates empathy and what’s more, children needed and wanted to see books that reflected their current world.

This is a trip I will never forget and if I go away with one thing, it is that being in Sharjah and meeting the wonderful local people has helped to dispel a lot of myths I had about the Arab world.

Thank you so much to Sharjah Book Authority and Midas PR for such a kind invitation and for such a lovely trip.

The Bookmark Project

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The inspiring and wonderfully kind folk at the 1st Burley-in-Wharfedale Brownies are raising money for Katiyo Primary School in Zimbabwe by auctioning off one-of-a-kind bookmarks designed by authors, illustrators and book lovers. I’ve taken a break from working on my new book to get designing for this brilliant project.

Here’s the bookmark I designed:

If you fancy bidding on this one-off, signed, original bookmark or any of the other bookmarks up for auction, keep an eye on the 1st Burley-in-Wharfedale Brownies blog or follow all the fun on Twitter.

Dave Pigeon visits St Bartholomew’s Primary School and Cranleigh Primary School

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Sheena and I were back in Surrey today. This time we were visiting St Bartholomew’s Primary School and Cranleigh Primary School.

We started our morning with the brilliant Year Three and Year Four pupils at St Bartholomew’s Primary. We created lots of brand new pigeon characters, as Sheena guided us through a shape challenge drawing tutorial.

We then created two magnificent stories where Dave Pigeon and best friend Skipper had to avoid a candy floss covered Mean Cat, before meeting evil magic mice Bob and Kevin who transformed the pigeon besties into mice. Dave and Skipper, the mutant pigeon mice, had no choice but to escape via a transporter hidden in a sewer.

We then headed to Cranleigh Primary School after lunch where we were met with a fantastic display of the pupils Dave Pigeon inspired artwork.

We created brand new characters and stories that involved a middle of nowhere jungle, pigeons at a rave and a super pigeon called Supie.

One particular highlight was meeting and exceptionally knitted Dave Pigeon who had been created two of the staff members at Cranleigh Primary School. He was a knitting masterpiece.

Thank you so much to all the brilliant staff and pupils of St Bartholomew’s Primary School and Cranleigh Primary School. And an extra special thank you to Owen and Jayne from Surrey Libraries who were such kind hosts.

Dave Pigeon at Read to Inspire

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Today, Sheena and I were at the University of East London. We weren’t in front of our usual crowd of five to eleven year olds but instead met with a hundred student teachers who were just months away from going in to work in primary schools. Led by the wonderful Nikki Gamble of Just Imagine, we were part of the Read to Inspire event, alongside author Chitra Soundar, where we spoke to the next generation of teachers about bringing the joy of reading for pleasure into their classrooms.

Nikki talked about the importance of children being adventurous in their choice of books and taking ‘risks’.

Chitra introduced us to her books and showed us what she did in her events, entertaining us with her storytelling.

Nikki then joined Sheena and I and we had an ‘in conversation’ piece were we talked about our routes into illustration and writing respectively.

We also gave the students a taster of our character building session where the students helped us create a brand new villain.

Thank you so much to Nikki, Rose, Fran and Daniel and the lovely students at the University of East London who were such wonderful hosts.

Team Dave Pigeon features in Carousel Magazine

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Sheena and I have been busy with events this month and we thought it was about time we shared some of what we have learnt about each other during our many hours on the train. We weeded out all the useless stuff, (yup, my shoe size is size 5), and the good folk at the Carousel magazine let us have a double page spread in the latest issue of their magazine to share our interview with you.

This issue is packed full of fantastic articles, interviews and reviews. If you love everything children’s books, it’s well worth subscribing to this brilliant publication.

Dave Pigeon visits Tadworth Primary School

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It was an early start today as we headed to Tadworth Primary School in Surrey. Sheena and I were greeted with a Dave Pigeon treasure hunt and a huge pile of books to sign before we ran our four workshops with pupils from Year One to Year Six.


We created alternative endings for Dave Pigeon and Skipper. First up, Years One, Two and Three; they took the pigeons on an adventure to an underground hideout where a pigeon-hungry mole was waiting for them. Thankfully, the pigeons escaped after they craftily created mud pigeons to fool the poorly-sighted mole.

Next up were Years Four, Five and Six. They took the pigeon duo on a trip to the rubbish dump where the feathery pair hatch a plan to drench Mean Cat in water. However, Skipper mistakenly dumps a bucket of water on top of a mongoose who hunts the pigeons down. As Skipper flies to safety, Dave manages to escape the angered mongoose, with the help of a bucket and a hill to roll down.

After our story-building workshops, Year Four created fifty new villains for us. I came away, as ever, inspired by the creativity of these budding young writers and illustrators.

Thank you so much to The Alligator’s Mouth bookshop and all the staff and pupils, especially headteacher Justin Kelly, who helped to make our visit so pigeontastic.

(Pictures from Tadworth Times, Tadworth Primary School)