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Martin Luther King Jr. delivers his 'I Have a Dream' speech, flanked by Bayard Rustin (behind King, wearing spectacles)

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.

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By Jamie Smith

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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Posted 19 October at 8:49 am in Black History Month, competitions, free resources, news, teachers

black history month

To celebrate Black History Month, we’re giving away a book a day between now and 31st October!  Each day, on Facebook (facebook.com/TamarindBooks) and Twitter @TamarindBooks), we’ll let you know which of our fantastic books could be winging their way to you.  All you have to do is email us at info@tamarindbooks.co.uk with your full name and address.  Winners will be picked at random and then notified by email.  Check out Facebook and Twitter NOW to find out about today’s amazing giveaway!

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Posted 20 October at 10:29 am in authors, black authors, books for 5+, books for 7+, out and about, teachers

Our most prolific author this year, Malaika Rose Stanley, launched her latest book, Miss Bubble’s Troubles, yesterday at Brecknock Primary School. Around 100 students from Years 1 – 4 attended the very special occasion. Malaika read an extract from Miss Bubble’s Troubles and then asked students to help her perform the “Brecknock Rap”: an original rap about Brecknock school and students, which Malaika composed herself. At the end of the launch, students helped Malaika officially ‘launch’ the book by counting down from ten to blast off! The launch was also attend by journalists from the Camden Gazette, Ham & High and Islington Gazette.

Miss Bubble's Troubles Launch

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This time of year is always like a military operation at Tamarind. The editorial staff become booksellers on the road, couriering a mobile shop to education and cultural events, and meeting readers old and new. Boxes of books, hundreds of plastic bags, posters, rubber bands, table cloths and paraphernalia clutter up the office.

Every day for a week we’ve been either preparing for an event, or at an event. The first weekend of October loomed large and busy too: two days at the Times Educational Supplement show in Kensington Olympia, meeting educators, local government staff, nursery owners and trainee teachers. We discounted our overstock titles to £1 each especially for the show, a perfect offer in a time of budget cuts, and gave a poster to each buyer to bring positive images of black children to their homes and classrooms.

In 2 days, with 4 staff, in 5 square metres of space, we sold 1,054 books!

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Posted 22 July at 2:37 pm in authors, black authors, out and about, teachers, Verna Wilkins

Last month, Class 3O at Brecknock Primary School studied the work of Tamarind author Verna Wilkins. They each wrote her a letter asking questions about her life. On Thursday, Verna visited Class 3O in person!  Their teacher Siobhan reports… 

Class 3O have been studying many books by the author Verna Wilkins, including biographies of Stephen Lawrence and Benjamin Zephaniah, as part of the Literacy Unit Authors and Letters. When they wrote to her to ask her to come and visit, imagine their surprise when she did! Especially as they were to first to hear her read her new book, Abdi’s Day which is not due out until September 2010.  Here are some of the class’ comments about her visit:

Danae: “It was delightful that what I wanted to happen happened on Thursday because Verna Wilkins came when we wrote letters to her.”

Josh: “It was extremely good that our dream to meet Verna Wilkins came true.  She is an extremely nice woman and she told us about how she wrote her books.”

Merrill: “It was amazing to see Verna Wilkins and her telling us her new story, Abdi’s Day.  I asked her if she would ever write her autobiography and she said she would get to work on it when she gets home!”

Amal: “It was so outstanding to meet Verna Wilkins because I really want to be an author when I grow up and she told me everything about how to be a writer.”

Verna shares 'Abdi's Day'
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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.

Ben signed copies of the book which you can win on Facebook and Twitter next week.

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

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This week Ealing Council held its Early Years conference. Tamarind founder and author Verna Wilkins gave the keynote speech. Verna shared a lifetime of experience and success with local practitioners. The event was held to launch Building Futures: Believing in Children, a government document giving guidance on inclusion in the Early Years. Verna brought the Tamarind titles to life, injecting heart and humour into good inclusion practice. Here’s what the audience thought:

“She was so inspirational.  Every word she said had a deep meaning to it.  I thoroughly enjoyed her speech.” – Attendee from Ealing Montessori School

“[Verna’s speech] reminded me as to why I am still in teaching. Does she do talking books???!!! What a fantastic reader.” – Delegate from Greenfields Children’s Centre

“We should have more sessions like this to enhance our creativity and understanding of the world.” – Attendee from Sudbury Hill Montessori School

“[Verna] encouraged me to look and think about what children say and to promote children learning through their personal experiences.” – Delegate from Windmill Children’s Centre

Multicultural bookseller Colourful Kids displayed the full range of Tamarind’s Early Years titles on the day.

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Posted 2 July at 4:09 pm in teachers, Verna Wilkins

You know you’ve done something special when children are studying you at school. The charming Class 3O from Brecknock Primary School in Camden wrote to tell us about their work on Verna Wilkins‘ books. Their teacher Siobhan says:

"We have really enjoyed reading your books this term... The children were so motivated by your stories and have asked that we contact you."

Here are a few of the letters for you to enjoy. Thanks Class 3O!

[flickr-gallery mode="photoset" photoset="72157624385054416"]

Latest Posts on the Tamarind Blog
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Equipped with a range of beautiful Tamarind picture books, Verna Wilkins visited Whitefriars School in Harrow. The head teacher Lynne Pritchard requested the visit because she is aware of “the importance of adequately meeting the educational needs of all the children, regardless of their ethnic origin.

Tamarind books focus on universal themes, making them accessible and engaging resources for use all year round, and not only to be dusted off in Black History Month each October. Verna highlighted the curriculum topics, early socialisation themes, shared experiences and family life in the books. One powerful example, The Silence Seeker is popular because of the interwoven themes of migration, the value of silence, noisy city life and friendship without words. The lyrical writing and stylish illustrations widens its appeal to older children.

With the Tamarind range on board, the teachers felt able to deliver a truly multicultural curriculum. The head teacher was so inspired that she bought 44 Tamarind titles for the school and for her charity Red Earth, which trains teachers in Uganda. Through working with Tamarind, Lynne has become excited and equipped to integrate multicultural books across the curriculum. Lynne’s particularly keen to take The Day Rains Fell to Uganda on her next trip, and to take Verna too!

Verna founded Tamarind to address the issue of inclusion in early years education. Her work with schools over 20 years has shown how much personal value children feel when they see themselves reflected in their learning materials.

Feeling inspired?

Why not donate a Tamarind book to an African school through the charity Pelican Post, or flick through our catalogue to see the many curriculum themes our books support.

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