Sunday, 28 July 2013

Festivals; Hay and the Middle of Nowhere

I love the Hay Festival...the setting at the edge of the mountains...the relaxed atmosphere....the banana and peanut butter ice-cream (try it!)... the array of speakers and activities and music...I could go on and I was delighted to be invited back again and even more so, to share an event with the fabulous Nicola Davies who was talking about dangerous animals and also reading from her book, The Lion Who Stole My Arm.

Nicola persuaded me to become a polar bear on stage and I persuaded her to help me put a child into a cage*

*putting a child in a cage was debated before the Hay Festival...however I had no shortage of volunteers!

And then on...from an international festival to a first time festival in the middle of nowhere.

I couldn't say no to an invitation to Cornwall to the Children's Literature Festival in the Middle of Nowhere...

Set in the heart of the Ruthern Valley amidst ancient oak woodlands and meadows, the festival provided  entertainment in marquees, from printmaking, shadow puppet theatre, comedy, illustrator workshops, book was a fun packed day, with amazing food, especially from Wild Bake, the stone-baked pizzas from a horse-box!

If you're in Hay or Cornwall with children next year...don't miss out on these fab festivals!

Friday, 26 April 2013

Meet Prince...a very special bear

To celebrate the publication of Moon Bear next week, I want to introduce you to a very special bear…meet Prince…a gorgeous moon bear I sponsor through the charity Animals Asia.


Prince lives in the Animals Asia Chengdu Bear Sanctuary in China where he loves to play and to climb trees...

....and swim in the pools...

...and simply relax...

He lives a very contented life, with access to food and water, a life free from discomfort and disease and one where he can behave innately as a bear. 

However, Prince once led a very different life. He had been kept in a bear farm for the collection of his bile, a traditional Chinese medicine.

More than 15,000 bears like Prince are kept on bear farms across South East Asia and regularly milked for their bile, which is used in traditional medicine.  

Most farmed bears are kept in tiny cages, sometimes so small that the bears are unable to turn around or stand on all fours. Bears may be kept caged like this for their whole lives, maybe up to 30 years. Most farmed bears are starved, dehydrated and suffer injury and disease.

Their bile is extracted using various painful techniques, all of which cause  infection and suffering in the bears. This cruel practice continues despite the availability of a large number of effective and affordable herbal and synthetic alternatives.

It was reading about the plight of these bears that inspired the story Moon Bear. I felt that there was a story wrapped up in one of these bears, and so I began to ask many questions; where do these bears come from? Who captures the bears? Who sells them? Who extracts and sells the bile? Who buys the bear bile? I noticed that many of the questions began with who? And so it became a story about many people’s lives. It became twelve year old Tam’s story, and how he, like the bear cub is taken from his forest home.

 To find out more information about the work carried out by Animals Asia and how to support them, follow the links...

I will be giving Prince a little space in my treehouse soon, so you can find out about his life-story and follow his stay tuned! 

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Press Release! Sky Hawk ... at the theatre!

PRESS RELEASE 15 April 2013
Clwyd Theatr Cymru Theatre for Young People, Mold, Flintshire, North Wales CH7 1YA
Tim Baker celebrates securing the rights to adapt “SKY HAWK”, the award- winning novel by Gill Lewis.
©David Wyatt
Tim Baker, Associate Director of Clwyd Theatr Cymru, has succeeded in obtaining the rights to adapt Gill Lewis’ novel Sky Hawk for the stage, as a musical for young people.
“An edge-of-your-seat wildlife adventure that tells a very human story of friendship, discovery and an incredible journey. I love it!”
Kate Humble, BBC Television presenter and RSBP President
It will play at Clwyd Theatr Cymru in a specially created installation, designed by Ruth Hall. School performances are available from 12 June – 5 July, evening performances on 27 June & 4 July. This project will also be working closely with The Dyfi Osprey Team at Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust.
Tim Baker said: “Sky Hawk has already won many awards and I am thrilled to be able to bring it to Clwyd’s stage and pleased to be working with Musical Director and Composer, Dyfan Jones, to create a new musical adaptation of this wonderful story.”

PRESS RELEASE 15 April 2013
Sky Hawk is Gill Lewis’ debut novel and was published to critical acclaim by Oxford University Press in 2011. It has been nominated for a total of 23 awards to date, including the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize, the Red House Book Award and CILIP Carnegie Medal. Sky Hawk has been published in 25 languages.
Gill Lewis said: “I'm absolutely thrilled that Clwyd Theatr Cymru Theatre for Young People are taking Sky Hawk to a wider audience. It feels especially fitting as conservation efforts have encouraged more ospreys to nest in Wales.”

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Why I grew up hating Books! And why librarians matter!

I felt very honoured to be invited to speak at the Federation of Children's Book Groups conference in Bury St Edmunds. For those of you who don't know, the FCBG is a federation made up of librarians, parents, teachers, book bloggers, booksellers and anyone else with a passion for children's books and a desire to encourage young people to pick up books and develop a life-long love of reading.

So I agreed and then sat drumming my fingers wondering what on earth I could talk about to a group of people who have probably read enough children's books to reach the moon and back three times.

It was Michael Gove's announcement of proposed changes to the national curriculum, which made me reflect upon my own childhood relationship with books. The Education Secretary thinks it would be a good idea to drop environmental studies in primary schools to give way for rote learning maths and English. After all, with more of us living in towns and cities, maybe environmental studies are not relevant to our children? And why not push children as young as four and five to learn spellings and phonics. And why stop there?  Why not start at three, or two, or one? Why not start before a child is born? Maybe Mr Gove would propose ultrasonic phonics for the womb!

Well, there are many reasons why not to all those things.

I think rote learning and setting reading targets sets many children up for failure.

It put me off.

I grew up hating books.

When I went to school, I didn't find reading easy. Words were spoon fed like cod-liver oil. I was told they were good for me, but I didn’t like them at all. I wanted to spit them back out. The school followed a reading scheme whereby children had to progress through a series of books. Once you reached the end of the scheme you were rewarded with a copy of the book, The Little Wooden Horse. It was presented as an award of achievement during school assemblies. I was one of the many children who never reached the end of the scheme. I didn’t qualify. I wasn’t good enough. I saw other children with their noses in books, and I knew there was some kind of magic within the pages. But when I tried to read, the books were just full of dry words and letters. I couldn’t find the magic at all.

So I turned my back on books. If I wasn’t good enough for them, they weren't good enough for me. I would have given up on books altogether, if it hadn’t been for one person…the school librarian. I didn’t have to pass any tests to take books from her library. I could explore books in my own time. She helped me to find the magic within the book.

You may have noticed the shameless plug for my next book, Moon Bear. The bear in the animation is an Asiatic Black Bear, more commonly known as a Moon Bear, distinctive by the crescent shaped strip of white fur on its chest.

In fact the story carries the theme of the conference; The Power of the Page.
Words, whether written or spoken have great power. They have the power to make great changes. They have the power to change hearts and minds. One voice alone can make a difference. One voice becomes two, two voices become four and the words spread outwards like a huge wave, gathering momentum, gathering power.

This is especially true of the environmental issues surrounding the books I have written.

White Dolphin is a story about the conservation of the oceans. Some of you may have followed Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Fish Fight, campaigning to reduce discards and develop Marine Protected Zones around the UK. Many people have signed the petition that has helped to initiate changes in the Common Fisheries Policy. 

Sky Hawk follows the journey of the osprey across its route of migration. The survival of the osprey depends not only upon its safety both in Scotland and Africa, but also along the corridor of its migration. The Rutland Osprey Project has linked with schools in Gambia and Spain to increase shared knowledge of the osprey between children in these countries. 

Moon Bear was inspired by the work carried out by the charity Animals Asia. Jill Robinson founded Animals Asia to stop bear bile farming, create sanctuaries for rescued bears and reduce the demand for bile. Through awareness campaigns, education and celebrity endorsement, people in countries around the world have been demanding an end to bear bile farming.

Learning about the environment is fundamental for developing respect and responsibility for our natural world. Stories need to be shared for us to develop understanding, knowledge and empathy. We want children to be able to question the world around them and expand their horizons of learning and not narrow them by overzealous rote learning.  Our natural world provides us with the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat. It gives us the resources for our material wealth and the inspiration for our spiritual health. 

To create readers, we should not spoon-feed words to children, but we must tell them great stories, show them other worlds and other landscapes, take them on adventures beyond their wildest dreams. Only then, by inspiring them with great stories will we inspire them to read. 

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Cages of Shame

In March I travelled to London to see the UK viewing of Martin Guinness' film, Cages of Shame. A heart-rending and thought-provoking film, it documents the work carried out by Animals Asia, a charity dedicated to end the suffering of bears kept for bear bile farming.

Across south east Asia, many bears are confined in small metal cages for their whole lives. They suffer hunger, thirst and disease. They are subjected to painful and stressful procedures to extract their bile. They cannot behave in any way that is innately ‘bear’. This is for the production and collection of bear bile for the traditional Chinese medicine market, a market with consumers all around the world.

Martin Guinness' inspiring film not only highlights Animals Asia's dedication to rescue and care for these bears, but it also shows the huge impact raising awareness and education has to spread the word, change hearts and minds, and lead to a shared and more powerful voice to influence governments and policy makers.

I'll have more to say about bear bile farming nearer the publication of Moon Bear, my next book and some exciting news about a very special bear!

To find out more about Animals Asia's work follow the link...

With Jill Robinson, the founder of Animals Asia

Peter Egan, the ambassador for Animals Asia

One White Dolphin wins Green Earth Book Award

Green Earth Book Awards

Using the power of story to teach children about our natural environment and the responsibility we all have to protect it.
The Green Earth Book Award is the nation’s first environmental stewardship book award for children and young adult books. Over 80 winning and honor books have been honored since 2005. The award continues to garner attention from the literary world as an esteemed award, bringing recognition to authors, but more importantly, providing the award-winning books to children.

Children’s Fiction: One White Dolphin, by Gill Lewis
published by Simon & Schuster/Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Story of friendship and community taps into the radiance of nature and explores timely environmental issues.
I'm so chuffed that One White Dolphin, the US edition of White Dolphin has won the Green Earth Book Award. The ethos of the award is so true; the power of the story is so important to teach us  about the natural environment and the responsibility we have to protect it. 

Sky Hawk animation

One of the amazing things that happens when you write a book, is that you see other people's interpretation of your own work.

Dutch animator, Marissa Delbressine created a wonderful book trailer for the Dutch edition of Sky Hawk

Follow the link to see the animation...

Some of Delbressine's preliminary sketches. 

For Marissa Delbressine's fascinating art blog follow the link...

World Book Day 7th March

World Book Day turned into several busy weeks, visiting eight schools and three festivals in February and March. 

Bishop's Stortford Festival of Literature

There were a diverse range of speakers at the Bishop's Stortford Festival, including George Alagiah, Adam Hart-Davis, poet Brian Patten, novelist Rachel Joyce and Olympic gold motivator Ben Hunt-Davis, among other writers and illustrators. 

Hazlegrove Festival for Literature 

The first literary festival for Hazlegrove, this proved to be a huge success with authors including Helen Dunmore, Chris Riddell, Angie Sage and more. 

The pupils were extremely enthusiastic, especially when we tried to fly a teacher across the theatre. 

(photos to follow)

Aye Write Festival 

I was chuffed to be invited to be part of the Aye Write Festival for schools at the Mitchell Library in Glasgow. In just one week, over 11,000 children passed through the library doors attending author events and workshops.

At the Mitchell Library in Glasgow

Authors and organisers in Steve Hartley's giant frilly knickers! 

Author Books and Children Day in Frome, run by the brilliant independent book shop, Hunting Raven Books.

Five authors; Maudie Smith, Sam Gayton, Jessica Ahlberg, Jackie Morris and myself were invited to be part of an author day in Frome. The event was so popular that tickets sold out and we were shipped out to local schools too.