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?
In just a few days, Nina begins her next globetrotting adventure!
Blessed with a travelling spice shed and her new best friend, Lee, Nina is on a mission to solve a very tricky riddle. Her first stop is Aunt Nishi’s garden shed, a secret teleportation machine that promises to help the young explorers with their quest.
WELCOME TO BEIJING, CHINA reads the message on the travelling spice shed and soon Nina is exploring the sights of China, including the Forbidden City, a kung-fu school and the terracotta army. Along the way, she learns all about Chinese customs and traditions. But she mustn’t forget the mystery of the riddle, which desperately needs solving.
Perfect for both boys and girls, Nina’s second magical adventure explores an exciting new country and culture. Featuring fascinating facts about China, a mini guide to chopstick etiquette and an introduction to the Chinese zodiac, Nina and the Kung-Fu Adventure is both fun and educational.
Nina and the Kung-Fu Adventure is published on 3 October 2013. For further adventures with Nina, check out Nina and the Travelling Spice Shed.
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.
As Black History Month comes to an end, we wanted to share this inspiring guest post from debut author Madhvi Ramani.
One of the highlights of the London Olympics was watching Usain Bolt, the fastest man in the world, run the 100 metre race.
For me, the greatest athlete of all time is Jesse Owens, who competed at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. At that time, Hitler was in power and wanted to use the games to prove that the Aryans – white, Nordic people characterised by fair hair and blue eyes – were superior to other races. Owens destroyed this myth when he won the 100 metres, 200 metres, 4x100metre relay and the long jump, setting three world records.
Jesse Owens faced racism at home in the USA as well as in Hitler’s Germany. For example, he was not allowed to stay in the same hotels as his fellow white athletes. Upon returning home after winning 4 gold medals, New York City honoured him with a parade and reception. However, to get to his own party, he had to use the service elevator at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel where it was being held.
Unlike the white American athletes, who were invited to meet President Roosevelt after the games, Jesse Owens and the other black American athletes were never even sent a telegram of congratulations.
It’s amazing that under such circumstances, Jesse Owens was able to strive and win. The way that he described running can inspire us in our own lives:
“You could go in any direction, fast or slow as you wanted, fighting the wind if you felt like it, just on the strength of your feet and the courage of your lungs.”
I think of that whenever I walk down the long street near the Olympic Stadium in Berlin that was named after him.
by Madhvi Ramani.
Madhvi Ramani’s debut children’s book Nina and the Travelling Spice Shed is out now!
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.
I love travelling, which is partly why I wrote Nina and the Travelling Spice Shed, a story about a girl who has all sorts of adventures using her aunt’s travelling machine!
My love of travelling has also landed me in some tricky situations, so here are my top tips to help you avoid getting into a pickle when you hit the road!
1. Never go for a morning jog in Mumbai
I should have guessed it was a stupid idea just by looking around.
No one jogs on the streets of Mumbai. Probably because they don’t want to navigate around cars, rickshaws, carts, buses, motorbikes, hoards of people and street vendors on dusty pavements that end abruptly in the middle of the road, and be looked at as if they are barking mad. Which, if you’re jogging on the streets of Mumbai, you probably are.
2. Don’t leave buying a guide book till you get to the airport
Planning is the key to good travelling. A guide book is the best way to find out what to see, how to get around and all that other important stuff.
When I went to South America, I bought the guidebook at Heathrow Airport. I was going to read it on the plane, but there were films to watch, meals to eat, naps to be had, and an international rugby team occupying the rows around me to chat to.
When I landed in Chile, I discovered that I had no idea what to do next – terrifying!
3. Beware of local fashions
It’s fun and practical to dress like the locals. However, some of the clothes you buy in other countries may never be worn at home. Take my colourful, hand-knitted jumper. It’s perfectly okay wear in a supermarket in Peru, but in the UK, people give you funny looks.
4. Learn the language
Speak as much as possible and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. I learnt this in Spain, where I became fluent in Spanish. I also discovered a handy little trick. If you don’t know the Spanish word for something, just put an a or an o at the end of the English word and bingo! Accent becomes acento, band becomes banda, and camel becomes camello.
This rule does not always work though. Once, when I wanted to say, I’m embarrassed, estoy embarazada, everyone looked at me in surprise. I had just told them I was pregnant.
5. Be prepared to be surprised
Before going to the Alps, I watched loads of YouTube video on how to ski. I practiced in my living room. I was sure it was going to be a breeze. When I got to the mountain, I fell flat on my face! It’s the same with travelling – you can prepare all you want, but it’s surprising. Enjoy your experiences and even if you get into a muddle, you’ll laugh about it afterwards.
On Saturday, founder of Tamarind Books, Verna Wilkins, showcased Tamarind at the Grenada Olympic House in Central London. During the Olympics from 4pm to 10pm each day, Grenada Olympic House is celebrating all things Grenadian. There are various exhibitions including carnival costumes, art and crafts and photography. Plus there is live music and poetry.
Last weekend hundreds of Grenadians and friends attended a reception hosted by Her excellency Ruth Elizabeth Rouse. Guests of honour included the Minister of Sport and L/Cpl Dr Johnson Beharry VC – a Grenadian who is the youngest person to receive the Victoria Cross.
There is live TV coverage throughout the exhibition. Every day brings a new programme of activities and fun especially now that Kirani James, the young Grenadian won gold!!
For further information click here.