This month, speaking at an event entitled, ‘Free at Last’ at the Southbank Centre, the journalist Gary Younge invited the audience to consider the nature of history. Since moving to the States from Stevenage, Younge has extensively researched and written about the African-American civil rights movement, and in conversation with fellow journalist, Hannah Pool, he shed light on some of its forgotten heroes.
The title of Younge’s talk refers to the final line of Martin Luther King’s seminal ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, which concluded, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”. In the year that marks the 50th anniversary of the speech, it’s right that much consideration has been given to the importance of King, and Younge talked extensively about interviewing King’s friends and advisors who gave their first-hand accounts of how the speech came to be. But Younge also used his talk to highlight people like Claudette Colvin who was the first person to resist racial segregation on the buses in Montgomery, Alabama, a whole nine months before Rosa Parks, but who then became pregnant out of wedlock, and Bayard Rustin, a leading activist for civil rights who was openly gay. Both are examples of people who had pivotal roles in the civil rights movement but who have been all but written out of the history books because their personal lives didn’t conform to the traditional Christian values which were central to the movement.
As Black History Month draws to a close, it seems an appropriate moment to contemplate the nature of history and history makers. Using E. H. Carr’s quote, ‘History means interpretation’, Younge underlined that the ‘facts’ of history are made by ordinary people with their various biases and agendas. The fact that history is not independent of the people who decide what does and what does not enter the historical record means that often, the things left out are as interesting and important as the things left in.
October is Black History Month and we’ve taken this opportunity to ask Tamarind’s founder, Verna Wilkins, about how Tamarind began 25 years ago.
Verna Wilkins is the author of 30 picture books and biographies for young people. Her books have featured on National Curriculum and BBC children’s television, and been chosen among the Children’s Books of the Year. She was born in Grenada and lives in London.
Why did you start Tamarind?
Why do you feel it’s important for children to see themselves reflected in the books that they read?
Has the industry changed since Tamarind first started publishing books?
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:
By Jamie Smith
I feel very lucky to be illustrating Ann Cameron’s series; the stories are jam packed with special moments and the characters are so vividly drawn. This makes illustrating the books a lot of fun – and there are always lots of options for the cover illustration.
I grew up in a family of four with a younger brother and unruly dog, so I really relate to the stories. For this reason the Tiger Tells All cover is one of my favourite illustrations. I’ve spent many hours chasing dogs around a back garden, with cats fleeing up trees and discarded socks strewn across the lawn. I too would struggle to resist dipping my finger into a voluminous lemon pudding, such as the one found in The Julian Stories. I really enjoyed this cover and one day soon I will follow the recipe in the back of the book, and see if it’s possible for the pudding to see out an evening unscathed.
My path always seemed destined towards a career in illustration, from the moment my grandmother first stepped into my classroom as a substitute teacher and instructed us to draw something. My efforts were doubled; I surrounded myself with coloured crayons (no doubt a little pink tongue was protruding from the corner of my mouth!) and produced a colourful hamster. It actually looked like a hamster, and from that day forward a sketchbook was my constant companion, even on holiday. I would devour comics, studying the artwork of Leo Baxendale in the Beano and recreating his characters.
My working process today is constantly evolving, and sometimes it still involves coloured crayons. I started life as a watercolour, dip pen and ink artist, but the Ann Cameron books are created with an array of pencils and some splashes of paint, and are brought together on the computer.
John Burningham was the first illustrator of children’s books to demand my attention, and though my influences are numerous and change daily I always return to the likes of Ronald Searle and Edward Gorey. There are so many characters that I would have loved to create, but I do have serious beard envy when it comes to Quentin Blake’s Mr Twit.
I work in a little studio at the bottom of my garden, flanked by apple trees and in the company of a huge array of birds and hungry insects. I could do with a friend like Gloria, to point out when my backside is covered with ants!
Jamie Smith illustrates the Julian and Huey books by Ann Cameron. To see Jamie’s work in action, check out Tiger Tells All, The Julian Stories and Julian’s Glorious Summer!
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.
In advance of publication of her new book Boys Don’t Cry, Malorie Blackman stopped by our office. She reminded us why she writes best-selling titles starring black protagonists.
Click to find out more about Boys Don’t Cry.
You can only imagine our excitement when Vanessa Feltz’s production team called us on Wednesday. They wanted to hear Tamarind’s perspective on Black History Month on Friday’s show. Although a newcomer to radio, Patsy ‘the Commissioner’ Isles stepped up to be interviewed for the benefit of BBC Radio London listeners. In the absence of a poorly Vanessa, another DJ chatted live with Patsy on Friday 8th. You can hear the broadcast on BBC iPlayer until midday on Friday 15th. Patsy is on two hours into the broadcast.
We were delighted when, further to her charming review of The Young Chieftain, book blogger Tricia conducted an incisive interview with its author, Ken Howard. How did Ken conjure up his teen hero, Jamie MacDoran? Does he envisage ‘Young Chieftain tours’ of the Scottish Isles? Find out on Tricia’s blog, Black Book News.
This morning Ben Morley, the author of The Silence Seeker, dropped into our office from Singapore during his holiday in London.
After a minute’s silence, Ben enthralled an audience with an intimate reading. The publicity director, managing director and production controller were among those who enjoyed the story and asked Ben questions. Although we can’t repeat the magic of the book read aloud, you can see a video Q & A with Ben below.
What inspired Ben to write The Silence Seeker
Ben Morley on… Favourite books
Ben Morley on… The Crown Prince of Brunei
Ben Morley on… Being a writer
Ben Morley on… Workshopping the book
So far you’ve heard from a picture book author, an illustrator and a designer on how Tamarind books are made. (If you missed out, you can read the interviews here.) This month, meet our commissioning editor, who chooses the books we publish and works with authors to get the story just right.
Which Tamarind books have you worked on?
All the September 2010 titles. I’m currently working on our 2011 list. There are some fantastic new books in the offing.
What would you be if you weren’t an editor?
A musician if I could actually play an instrument! Seriously, though, I’d be on the other side of the editor/writer divide.
Describe a typical day.
Hectic and varied. Anything from editing or writing copy to thinking up cover briefs, checking illustration roughs, liaising with authors, planning workshops or competitions and much, much more.
What are you reading at the moment?
I’ve just finished Trash by Andy Mulligan – fantastic! I’m reading Bitter Leaf by Chioma Okereke; a sequel to Spike and Ali Enson from Malaika Rose Stanley and Ipods in Accra by Sophia Acheampong.
What’s your favourite Tamarind book and why?
There are too many to mention… I Don’t Eat Toothpaste Anymore was one of the first books I bought my daughter 16 years ago so that has always been special. More recently I love The Silence Seeker and the forthcoming Spike and Ali Enson, and not forgetting our first full-length novel The Young Chieftain by Ken Howard.
To find out more about writing for Tamarind, click to see Patsy’s submissions guidelines. If you’d like Patsy to do a workshop about how books are made for a school or library in London, please contact Kelly Tapper on firstname.lastname@example.org.