HOLIDAY - or should I say VACATION?

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San Francisco was brilliant.  During the first week Peter and I were based in the Tuscan Hotel in the colourful Fisherman’s Wharf. We did all the classic things - walrus watching while eating clam chowder, clickety-clacking up and down the hilly streets in cable cars, walking across the amazing Golden Gate Bridge, sailing over to Alcatraz and lots lots more.


I acquired a taste for pancakes with maple syrup for breakfast - so all that walking was jolly good for me.  We hiked round the redwoods in Muir Forest and on the way back from that trip we went to an exhibition of Dr Seuss originals, in a little seaside town called Sausalito. It was wonderful to see the originals of lots of our family favourites like Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham. We also saw sculptures Dr Seuss had made of his characters using clay and real body parts - like horns and antlers, which he got from his zookeeper dad.

Back in San Francisco we saw a man wearing an iguana.  Yes really, he had it round his neck like a scarf.  We also saw a dog with a cat on its back and rat on the cat’s back, an animal pyramid.  Sounds like a Dr Seuss story doesn’t it! Great stuff! There will be photos in the gallery soon.

At the weekend we moved to the elegant Japanese quarter of the city for The Reading The World Conference. Based at the University of San Francisco, it was fascinating. The first person I met, in the lobby of the Kabuki hotel, a librarian called Carol, said that Big Red Tub, the American version of Big Red Bath, was ‘THE most asked-for book’ among pre-schoolers in Redwood Library, California. Well, that got the weekend off to a very good start.


The theme of the conference was creating a better world through books.  Delegates and speakers had come from all over the world to tell and hear each other’s stories. One of the speakers described books as both mirrors and windows - mirrors because we look in books to see ourselves, and windows because we look to see other people as well.

Everyone there shared a passionate belief that all children should be able to see themselves in books. In America they can, it seemed to me, much more so than in Britain. Children of every ethnicity can find themselves on the cover of a book. They all see how diverse we are in colour and customs but also how alike we all are in thoughts and feelings.

When we read we empathise with others, we identify with a wide range of characters and stop think of people from different countries as ‘other’ - and that is the first step towards creating peace. That’s why books are important.


Rosemary Wells, author and illustrator of the famous Max and Ruby books, now on TV, was one of the keynote speakers.  She spoke of the importance of reading and talking to babies if the ‘cradle to prison cycle’ is to be broken. ‘Read to your baby and she’ll be all right!’ was her prime message, and she had the research to prove it. Yes, sharing books with babies is that powerful.

Perusing the bookstall later, I saw that Rosemary writes for older kids too. I bought Red Moon at Sharpsburg, which is about the American Civil War. I found it stunning, a powerful anti-war book that I’ll add to my list of Peace Books.


Scottish author, Theresa Breslin, winner of the Carnegie medal, was another keynote speaker. She wowed delegates with her dramatic rendering of the Scottish ballad, Lochinvar - she played all the parts - to make the point that, however high our purpose, if we are to grip young readers we need stories full of excitement and adventure and humour

Like hers, I couldn’t help thinking.  Her ‘Remembrance’ is one of my favourite books. It’s about World War I and if you haven’t read it, put it on your list of ‘Must Reads’.

Linking with Rosemary Wells, Theresa also said that stories teach that actions have consequences - a valuable lesson that might help break that ‘cradle to prison cycle’.


All this talk about the ‘cradle to prison cycle’ reminded me of my script for ‘Inside’ which still needs a few tweaks, but not for long. On the Saturday morning I had to give my presentation.   

‘Picture Books to Inspire the Imagination’

I was a bit worried that it was too light-hearted, given the theme of the conference, but it went down well. I demonstrated how I used my picture books, (the titles also published in America) Big Red Bath, Class Two at the Zoo and Class Three All at Sea,) as models for my ‘Let’s Start a Story’ workshops.   

The characters in Class 2 and Class 3 come in all colours and I was particularly pleased that Lynne and I had signed up to Scope’s In the Picture campaign, last year.  

That campaign was to encourage writers and illustrators to include children with disabilities in their books. Yes, all children should be able to see themselves in books, and Harry, the boy who spots the treasure in Class 3 All at Sea, wears a leg brace.

Teachers, if you’d like a copy of the Lesson Plan I gave to delegates, please go to Lesson Plans. 

After the conference Peter and went on to the Grand Canyon, but that’s enough for now.


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