This autumn, Tamarind published Jamila Gavin’s Blackberry Blue: a collection of six magical fairytales featuring a diverse cast of multicultural heroes and heroines. It has got us thinking a lot about storytelling and the role it plays in preserving cultural heritage. We asked some of our authors to tell us about the stories they enjoyed as children . . . Here’s what Ann Cameron, author of the Julian and Huey series had to say.
My Swedish grandfather lived with my family from the time I was born. He saved my life when I was a baby. One night it rained and the roof of the house got a leak that soaked the heavy plaster of the ceiling over my bed. Suddenly, the ceiling fell right onto my bed, with enough weight to crush me to death. But luckily for me, I wasn’t in bed that night. For some reason my grandpa – who never got me up at night – had taken me downstairs to play. I don’t remember the day the ceiling fell in, but I know that I was safe, held in his arms.
My grandpa was a blacksmith and had a forge where he hammered all kinds of useful things out of red-hot iron. He had his blacksmith shop on our land and we called it the ‘monkey house’ because he monkeyed around there, inventing and making things. I loved to spend time with him in the monkey house, with its smell of tools and fire and its cabinet with many tiny drawers full of bolts and screws and different size nails. Because I was very young, I never understood why there were no monkeys in the monkey house. I kept hoping that one day the monkeys would show up.
My grandpa told me stories about trolls and also about gremlins. When things in our house went astray, he said that gremlins had taken them. I thought the gremlins had carried them away down under the grating of the heat vent into the mysterious dark place below it that led down to the coal furnace in the basement. I didn’t know how tall gremlins were, but I imagined them about a foot high, moving around our house in the night while we slept. It seemed that in our house the lost things, especially buttons, disappeared and were never to be found again – proof that gremlins were real. As I grew up, I rarely wondered where the lost things had gone, because I was quite certain they were never coming back. To this day when something disappears, I remember my grandpa, say to myself, ‘Oh, it’s the gremlins again!’ and wait a good while before I start to look for it.
Although I was born in the United States, I have spent many years living in Panajachel, Guatemala. Just like the tales of the Brothers Grimm, some of the stories from the Cakchiquel Mayan tradition can seem quite violent; there’s one like ‘Hansel and Gretel’ but instead of a witch, there’s a big tree in the mountains which takes compassion on them and opens up so they can hide inside it to escape a lion. Then the two siblings live together in the mountains for years where they grow their food and the brother makes friends with a dog. They meet strange people deeper in the mountains, some of whom plan to eat them! But then Gretel falls in love with one of the men of the place and turns on her brother; she wants to kill Hansel, because he doesn’t like her new boyfriend. Hansel’s dog saves him from poisoned food the strange people want to feed him. Hansel knows about the poison because the dog is his food tester – what the dog won’t touch, Hansel knows is poisoned and won’t eat. The story comes to a climax when at a dance, Gretel and her boyfriend want to push Hansel into a concealed deep pit with a fire at the bottom. Hansel notices the pit, and pushes his sister and the boyfriend into it, where they burn to death. Hansel cries because he had loved his sister. From there on, it’s happily ever after.
Another story concerns a two-headed eagle that carries away children and even adults who go to the fields to plant corn – and eats them. To escape it, one family carries a giant hollow gourd to the fields so they can hide in it when they heard the eagle’s cry. Every day, the eagle lands on the gourd and claws at it, but the gourd is so strong and smooth, the eagle can’t break it open. But one day the father of the family forgets the gourd – and the eagle flies away with them all to carry them to his nest and eat them. When it sets them down in its nest, the father takes out a small machete. With it, he fights the eagle and chops it to bits, and no one ever has to be afraid to plant their fields with corn after that.
British World Champion and Tamarind author, Christine Ohuruogu, has been recognized for her achievements by receiving the Sunday Times and Sky Sports ‘Sportswoman of the Year’ award! We couldn’t be happier for Christine who, in winning this award, has joined a prestigious list of inspirational, elite sportswomen.
Christine is the only British female athlete to have won two world titles, she’s an Olympic gold medal winner and on top of all that, she doesn’t let her success get in the way of her determination. She’s still trying to run faster!
Of course, we at Tamarind also know Christine for her brilliant Camp Gold series.
The series follows Maxine, an enthusiastic young athlete who attends Camp Gold and discovers her natural talent for running. Although not strictly autobiographical, the books give us a little insight into a young girl’s passion for competitive sport and the kind of determination it takes to get to where Christine is today. Maxine is a brilliant, strong female character and we can’t help but see a little of Christine in her.
Christine is a true inspiration to the next generation and – fortunately for us – has passed on a little of her wisdom through her books.
Big congratulations from all of us at Tamarind Books, Christine!
Our intern Joe considers the European fairytale tradition . . .
Jacob and Wilhem Grimm didn’t live in a vacuum. They were politically aware academics collecting stories (often from the upper and middle classes) in the brief decades between The Enlightenment and German unification. They lived in a unique place and time within the evolution of European society. And yet, the stories they collected have been retold and beloved at least in part because they cover subjects of such authentic humanity as to make the tales seem timeless.
In Blackberry Blue, and other fairy tales, Jamila Gavin offers six brand-new stories inspired by the tales of the Grimms as well as Hans Christian Anderson, but updates this tradition to reflect our ethnically diverse population. On the surface of it, this collection is for girls and boys who have ever fallen down and noticed the ‘flesh-coloured’ sticking plaster doesn’t quite match or wondered why Father Christmas doesn’t look like their father but, as we learn in Gavin’s tales, appearances deceive. With stunningly beautiful (truly stunning) illustrations, these tales speak to the same authentically human power as what we have from the Grimms because Gavin, like Europe itself, has invited a wider audience to join.
In the 45 years between their first and final editions, the Grimms added and edited and altered their collection. Society was changing, the Grimms were changing, and so their stories changed. They were not the first to tell most of their stories and, two centuries on, we continue to add to and edit and alter the pantheon of European faery tales. With Blackberry Blue, Gavin gives us the next incarnation of this long and ever-evolving tradition.
Candy Gourlay is a Filipino author based in London. Her debut novel Tall Story won the Crystal Kite Prize for Europe and the National Book Award in the Philippines. It was nominated for the Carnegie Medal and shortlisted for 13 prizes including the Blue Peter, the Waterstones Prize and the Branford Boase. Her second novel, Shine (published by David Fickling Books), is out on September 5th.
Can you sum up your new novel, Shine, in a few words?
Shine is set on an island where it never stops raining. It’s about Rosa, who suffers from a disfiguring condition that means she must stay hidden from the gaze of superstitious islanders. Her only social life is the internet, where she meets a strange boy named Ansel95. She yearns to see the ghost of her dead mother. Every day she lights a candle in the window – on the island it is said that this is a sure way of summoning the spirits. Then one day, there is a knock. Her mother is on the doorstep.
What inspired you to write Shine?
One of my favourite scary stories when I was growing up was the story of the Monkey’s Paw by William Wymark Jacobs – it is now in the public domain and you can read it here . In the story, a man makes a wish and it is granted in the most unexpected way. He tries to rectify the problem by wishing again . . . and only when he hears the knock on the door does he realize that no good can come out of yearning for something you cannot have. I retell the story in Shine and there is a motif of doors and unexpected things behind them.
In my travels, I met a medium who told me that ghosts were souls trapped in a moment that they had to relive over and over again – and the only way to free them from such bondage was to help them realize that they were dead. I thought about this – and I couldn’t help thinking that this sort of entrapment happened to the living as well. People who were unable to let go, who were unable to move forward with their lives because they clung to something. They were as good as ghosts.
Growing up in the Philippines, all our books were imported from America and featured pink-skinned people who lived in places that didn’t at all resemble the edgy corner of Manila where my family lived. Don’t get me wrong, I loved those books, but the fact that they were populated by only one type of person embedded the idea in my DNA that books were the preserve of only one hue of character. Besides, I had also never met any authors with the same background. So even though I was always writing, I never really believed that a book with people who looked like me would stand a chance of publication.
To what extent do you think that UK children’s books feature a diverse range of characters?
It is improving all the time – and rather than dwell on the lack of diverse characters, I would rather celebrate the exciting work that publishers like Tamarind are doing, telling stories that reflect the multiple heritages that make this world such an exciting place. And I salute author colleagues whose casting couches send characters of all hues on adventures for the sake of the adventure without reference to the colour of their skin. Paraphrasing my friend Sarwat Chadda (author of the Ash Mistry books), ‘A kid should be allowed to have a badass adventure even if he or she’s got brown skin!’
What was your favourite book when you were a child?
I had a LOT of favourite books but if I really had to choose it would be The Five Chinese Brothers by Claire Huchet Bishop. It’s a kind of trickster story – about five Chinese brothers, each of whom had a power which they use to great and hilarious effect. The Five Chinese Brothers at one point fell out of favour, critics pointed at how the illustrations portrayed the Chinese brothers as look-alike, inscrutable, yellow-skinned and slant-eyed. They called it racism. I dunno about racism. I just thought it was a GREAT story.
Why is it important for children to have books with central characters that look like them and share their experiences?
I was in my forties when I finally allowed myself to have a go at realizing my dream of writing a book. Before that, I didn’t believe I could ever become an author because I had never seen anyone like me in a book or writing a book. I really believe that I would have given myself permission to write much sooner if I had seen myself in books when I was a child.
The Newbery winning author Richard Peck said: ‘If a child does not ﬁnd himself between the pages of a book, he will go looking for himself in all the wrong places.’ I know that there are many children like me out there, looking but not ﬁnding themselves. My hope is that Tall Story – and all the books I write in the future – will act as a mirror. And that young readers, looking into the mirror and seeing themselves, will like what they see.
What for you would be important in terms of reflecting your heritage in a book?
Permission is important here – that a child of any colour will give permission to himself and others to become the heroes of just about any story. If they can do this with books, think of what they can achieve in every other thing that they seek to do!
Have you got any plans for a third book?
I am currently working on a book with a historical aspect to it – but told from the point of view of a people who have not previously told their own story. It’s challenging and very, very exciting. Watch this space!
Candy’s new book, Shine, comes out on 5 September 2013. You can order it here:
I live part of the year in Guatemala, and part in Portland, Oregon, USA. One summer day in Portland I was walking in a park with two friends, Cati, who teaches seventh grade, and Dave, a doctor, who started telling me about their dog and cat. Their dog, Tiger, was very smart and very patient, and took care of the cat, who was a terrible risk-taker. The cat climbed up a tree and sat on a branch a man was sawing off the tree. The cat actually got stuck in the toilet while trying to drink the toilet water. And then, unnoticed, the cat jumped into the freezer with all the frozen food, and Cati didn’t notice and shut her inside. Could the wise dog save her from that? He did.
Tiger – what a hero! I wanted to write about him and her. I didn’t need to make anything up. The whole plot for the book had just fallen into my lap. All I needed to do to write it was to see things from Tiger’s point of view. I wrote Tiger Tells All in just three weeks, and it turned out really good and funny. Just as if Tiger was dictating it to me. Maybe he was!
Ann Cameron is the author of seventeen books, including the timeless series of stories featuring brothers Julian and Huey, and she has been a finalist for the U.S. National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. Please visit anncameronbooks.com for further information about Ann and her books.
This week Olympic silver medalist Christine Ohuruogu, helped us celebrate Black History Month with a wonderful day of events in East London. Fans were able to ask Christine questions and have their copies of Camp Gold signed.
In the morning she spoke to hundreds of fans at the Stratford Picture House before moving onto Redbridge Primary School. She was given a more than warm welcome by the students who had made a giant banner for her.
Christine was kind enough to let the students (and some members of staff!) try on her silver medal. We can confirm that it’s very heavy!
It was a fantastic day with a sporting superstar. What more could we ask for?
Don’t you sometimes wish you could skip all those long, boring journeys and just get from one place to another at the click of a button?
In my book Nina and the Travelling Spice Shed, my character discovers a way to do exactly that! Just imagine being able to go anywhere in world in an instant! Impossible! I hear you cry, but there are scientists working on it at this very moment. It’s called teleportation.
Teleportation means that you would be able to get from one place to another in seconds.
This year, scientists have been able to teleport a teeny particle called a photon a distance of 140 kilometres. It’s still a long way from people being able to get around without using cars, buses, trains, and planes, but it’s a start.
So, what would you use teleportation for? To get to school in the mornings? To go to a warm sandy beach? The North Pole? Maybe even the moon?
Right now, I would teleport myself to the kitchen to make a nice cup of tea…
You can follow Madhvi on Twitter at @madhviramani and Tamarind at @TamarindBooks
Download the latest Children’s Reading Partners Chatterbooks poster featuring Nina and the Travelling Spice Shed here.
Recently I had the pleasure of working with the illustrator Tim Marrs. Tim has worked for a vast range of clients, including working on campaigns for Nike: Brand Jordan, a T.V commercial for Audi, CD covers for U.S rock bands and even book covers for Elmore Leornard!
After spotting some of Tim’s work online for Nike, I felt his edgy, almost graffiti style of artwork would be perfect to illustrate two fiction titles for our Tamarind imprint…Camp Gold: Running Stars and Camp Gold: Going for Gold. Both of these books are written by Christine Ohuruogu. Christine is the current Olympic gold medal holder running the 400 metres. She will be defending her title at this year’s 2012 Olympics. These books are based on her childhood experiences.
Maxine is crazy about sports! She’s thrilled to be going to Camp Gold, an elite sports summer camp. She’s nervous too – will she be good enough?
At the camp she meets good friends, cute boys and, best of all, she discovers her hidden talent – running.
Soon she’s training for the Nationals, which will be watched by Olympic champions. It’s tough but it’ll be worth it if she wins. Then the pranks start and her things go missing. . . Someone is out to sabotage her chance of winning. Can she stop them before it’s too late?
Maxine can’t wait to start at Camp Gold International!
But the minute she arrives, things start going wrong – her training isn’t going well and, worse, someone has been vandalising the plush building. Now fingers are pointing at Maxine and her friends.
When it happens a second time, the principal makes it clear that if the vandals don’t stop, the camp may have to be closed.
For Maxine, Camp Gold means everything. Can she solve the mystery and focus on training . . . And win?
We got Tim Marrs to answer a few questions about what inspired him to become an illustrator…
What drew you to becoming a Children’s Illustrator?
I’m not known as a kids illustrator, but my style allows me to occasionally dip my toe in to the world of teenage fiction. I always liked drawing as a kid and was interested in picture books, so great to eventually get to work in this area.
What’s your favourite Children’s book?
I used to love Dracula by Victor G Ambrus. Maybe the start of my fascination with texture and mark making and busy, dynamic compositions.
What’s the first thing you do when you come across your book in a shop?
Check the colours came out okay and if my surname is spelt right – Ha ha
If you could be any children’s book character who would you be?
Peter Pan, growing up is so over rated…. or maybe Robin Hood. A swash buckling and tight wearing theme is occurring , time to answer the next question : )
My Grandparents, when they were alive, gave me endless encouragement and had faith in my ability when others didn’t (they also bought me my first mac) and Gary Powell, my tutor on my masters degree at St.Martins, is a inspiration and somebody who always pushed and challenged me to do better work and keep looking to evolve it.
You can check out more of Tim’s work on his blog…http://timmarrs.tumblr.com
Make sure your all routing for Christine Ohuruogu in the 400m race in the London 2012 Olympics!
We will be – GO CHRISTINE!
You can listen to the books being read by Blue Peter presenter Helen Skelton this week on The 4 O’Clock Show: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01l7x0k/The_4_OClock
Hooray! The gorgeous new book from Malaika Rose Stanley, Skin Deep has come into the office in its delightful finished form. Here it is, adorning Rosi’s desk in publicity (just ignore the Shrek memorabillia…) :
Doesn’t it look fabulous? The book is all about big ambitions, big problems and big bullies – and it’s out in September, so keep your eyes peeled!
Need gift ideas?