Here are links to all the posts about my recent trip.
Monthly Archives: August 2012
I like Oxford. I’ve come many times over the years, my favorite visit still being the week of the Lewis Carroll Centenary Celebration at Christ Church. (That was long before I began blogging or was on facebook so some day I need to pull together all my stuff from that glorious event and put it up here.) And so I decided to finish up my brief time in England at Oxford.
First of all I headed over to my favorite museum in the world — the Pitt Rivers Museum. It was a bank holiday and so fairly crowded with families, many with flashlights as the lights are kept low in this remarkable place. Here are some photos I took to give you a taste:
The museum is a glorious Victorian space. The main central floor is filled with cases, many of them with drawers you can open and then there are two balcony levels surrounding it.
It is kept very dark and, if you like, flashlights are available. The cases are the original Victorian ones.
The stuff is organized by subject rather than by region or chronologically. And, most wonderfully, they still have their original labels, often teeny tiny ones that are almost impossible to read. But worth it as the comments are often as eccentric as the displays.
You can open some of the drawers under the cases to find them filled with all sorts of stuff, some labeled and some not. (And even in the cases, some of the labels are in spots that make them impossible to read. I’m so curious about a black shiny stone ball I saw with something written on it on the bottom where I couldn’t read it.)
This may be my favorite object. The attached label’s transcription (on the white card below it) reads: ” Europe, England, Sussex, Hove. Silvered and stoppered bottle said to contain a witch, obtained about 1915 from an old lady living in a village near Hove, Sussex. She remarked, ‘…and they do say there be a witch in it and if you let un out there it be a peck o’ trouble….1926.”
The following day I had lunch with the Duke of Cittagazze. The Duke, aka Philip Pullman, explained to me that he got his title from the King of Redonda. What? You don’t know where Redonda is or what it is? Well I didn’t either. But you can learn all about it here where it explains that the current King of Redonda is writer Javier Marías who gives out the very unique literary prize which gave Philip his dukedom. Here’s a Exeter College news item on the honor (which I think gets at least one thing wrong as my impression is that the island does exist):
11 May 2012
Philip Pullman (1965, English) has been awarded the Kingdom of Redonda Literary Prize for 2012.
The prize is one of the more unusual literary prizes, and one might say prestigious, coming as it does from the imaginary Caribbean island of Redonda. In recognition of his literary achievements Mr Pullman has been made a Duke by HRH King Xavier I, and has taken the title Duke of Cittàgazze after the thief-riddled citadel in the second volume of the His Dark Materials trilogy.
On receiving the prize Mr Pullman said, “I’m delighted to be ‘enduked’. The prize was a rare and wonderful surprise, and I intend to live up to the proper splendour and dignity of a Duke of the imaginary kingdom of Redonda.
“I have always felt that I was one of nature’s aristocrats, and now I have the title to prove it. Coronet, regalia, robes, etc, will soon find a place in my wardrobe.”
Mr Pullman added that he chose the title of Duke of Cittàgazze principally for reasons of euphony, but also “in acknowledgement of the thefts that all writers commit every day, we being creatures of the jackdaw or magpie class.”
Besides Redonda the Duke and I talked about my visit to the Pitt Rivers Museum (as I first learned about it because of Lyra’s visit there in The Subtle Knife), the Lake District and Kendal Mint Cake which Philip noted is the food of angels, his forthcoming book of Grimm fairy tales, Dickens, the narrator of Bleak House, present tense, the overlooked author MacDonald Harris, and much more.
I stopped by the Eagle and Child, before returning to my hotel room to pack, write this, and prepare for home. It has been a wonderful couple of weeks!
The final day began with Jamila Gavin, Elizabeth Laird, and Beverley Naidoo and then moved on to a brilliant session of storytellers: Dashdondog Jamba, Sonia Nimr and Michael Harvey. Michael Harvey did a wonderful story in English and Welsh, Sonia Nimr did an Iranian one that was especially funny, and Dashdondog Jamba blew us away telling and singing his in Mongolian. I took a few videos of this and will post them somewhere when I figure out how to do so.
After a coffee break we returned to Patsy Aldana who spoke compellingly of multicultural issues and Michael Rosen who both spoke and performed his prose poems about similar issues. One of everyone’s favorite of these was “Ban the Santa” which you can read in the comments here.
After lunch I heard Kai Meyer in conversation with Anthea Bell (who is rightly one of the most well-known translators). It was fascinating. I managed a few tweets/notes. Anthea said she liked translating dialog. Kai said that he did not consider them collaborators. When he is done with the book he is done — what she is doing is her own thing. They rarely even communicate while she is doing the translation. Kai commented that since he can’t read most of his books in translation the only way he even knows they are his is because he recognizes his name on the covers. He commented that the “Holy Grail” for German writers is to get your book translated into English. (From conversations with others at the Congress I suspect this is true elsewhere too.) Kai also made clear that there is no artistic worry about translation — writers WANT to get their books translated and thus into the hands of as many readers as possible, he reminded us. Anthea noted that the translators are the craftspeople while the writers are the artists. It was a great session!
In the afternoon I went to a discussion on “creating and publishing children’s books.” Participants were mostly published or aspiring authors and were from Russia, Lebanon, Argentina, Brazil, Flemish, Indonesia, Australia, United Arab Emirates, UK, Japan, Estonia, Spain, India, Romania. (Over 22 people, only two from North America!). We discussed ebooks, funding, pricing, and audience among other things. Fascinating differing issues. For example, there was a young man from the UAE who set up a small publishing company to publish an Arab-centered Manga. Fascinating the issues, say that people are more used to reading manga in English so are resistent to it in Arabic. So he is releasing Arabic versions before the English to encourage more Arabic reading. A Spanish writer who is published in ten other countries and works with several publishers does it all himself; there is no agent culture as in the US. A woman from Indonesia said it was hard to go literary as the parents who buy the books think of children’s book as being necessarily didactic.
Then we returned for the Closing Ceremony where things were handed over to Mexico where the next Congress will be held in two years and poet Lemn Sissay performed.
I am still absorbing this amazing experience, but do say that if you ever get a chance to go —do so! Being in a truly international environment of children’s book creators and appreciators was amazing, amazing, amazing. (You can get a taste of this by checking out the IBBY tweets here.)
The day began (for me as there was an early bird session I didn’t attend) with the one and only Shan Tan. He spoke about critical literacy, how feelings and ideas go hand in hand in good art. “Don’t try to figure out what the author/illustrator was trying to do. It is irrelevant.” Shan feels strongly that the reader/viewer is the decider, not the artist and doesn’t expect viewers to know his references. He just wants readers to have an emotional response, whatever one is the correct one for that individual. He asks, “do we respond with compassion, hostility, or incomprehension?”
After lunch I went to hear the outstanding Candy Gourlay who spoke with passion and intelligence about issues of contemporary immigration, in particular that of those coming from her homeland, the Philippines. Unfortunately, I didn’t take notes, but she was fantastic; if you get the chance to hear her — go!
The afternoon featured the IBBY Honour List 2012 presentation which was lovely, lovely, lovely as it really gave you a sense of the range of books being published throughout the world.
The day ended with the Gala Reception and Presentation of the 2012 Hans Christian Andersen Awards at the Science Museum.
There was this band that looked like all it needed to complete it was a barbershop quartet (and why they chose it for this no one seemed to know):
But the space was amazing with rockets and airplanes overhead!
Below is María Teresa Andruetto, the winner of the writing award, giving her speech in the shadow of a big rocket.
And here is Peter Sis giving his speech.
Another view of the crowd at the reception.
The day opened with a talk on “Why Translate Children’s Books?” by Emer O’Sullivan followed by a conversation about translation between two writers, Bart Moeyaert and Aidan Chambers. Said Aiden, “Translation is a political act.”
I went to a session on historical representation (not a surprise to anyone who knows my interests:) which began with a very interesting talk by Patricia Kennon, “The American Girl Franchise: Historical Fiction and Imagining the American Past.” She was followed by Chris Crowe whose talk “Through a Glass, Lightly: Translating History for Young Readers” feature some incredibly thoughtful points about the issues involved in translating history for children and how translation influences the historical record as well as young readers’ perceptions of history. Lastly, Mari Jose Olaziregi spoke about “The Representation of American Diaspora in Basque Literature for Children.” Afterwards , over lunch, I happily talked about back matter, historical fiction, and nonfiction for children with Chris and Hilary Crew.
In the afternoon I went to a session focusing on digital issues where I especially appreciated my friends’ Bill Teale and Junko Yokota’s presentation. Bill gave a good overview of the current ebook publishing landscape that ranges from researchers who are focused on young children’s reading skills to commercial producers who focus on storytelling and those developing apps who are mostly interested in keeping kids engaged. Junko showed us a whole bunch of apps and ebooks and gave us a good sense what made them good or not so good.
The final program of the day was “Flying Paper” a performance featuring Basque children’s literature. I really liked the real-time illustration that accompanied the storytelling and music.
That evening I went with Junko Yokota, Bill Teale, Claudia, and Martha to the Victoria & Albert Museum. There were these crazy chairs near the entrance:
And I was happy to go again for a meal at the glorious cafe there, the very first museum cafe ever, with one of the three rooms by William Morris. Here we are in the Gambell room and then me, below, in the original grill room.
I’m in England, but if I were home in New York today I would have taken up an invitation by the folks doing the new Chaplin musical to attend a brunch and then the matinée for the show. Instead, as soon as I get home I plan to see it. Meantime, here’s something from the guy who is playing Charlie.
The IBBY International Congress was fantastic and unlike anything I have done before. Because of my lifelong interest in international issues I have long been a member of USBBY and attended their events at NCTE and ALA, but this was my first international conference with its parent organization, IBBY. The Congress was perfectly located at the Imperial College just steps from Hyde Park and the Victorian & Albert. People really were from everywhere; it was the most international conference I have ever attended.
This truly international nature meant that there was simultaneous translation from a booth near the front of the stage; sitting farther up I could still occasionally hear it through my neighbors’ headphones.
The Opening Ceremony began with a completely charming performance by children from Theatre Peckham of an excerpt from their recent production of The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo. I tweeted, “Adorable children doing Edward Tulane with song and Commonwealth accents.” This was followed by a tea sponsored by Walker Books (Candlewick’s counterpart in the UK) where I had a chance to run across all sorts of folks I knew (some I hadn’t seen in years) and to meet many wonderful new people as well. Throughout the days of the Congress I kept encountering people I’d met long ago, others that knew this blog, and still others whom I only knew from their writing or other work with children and books. I think this may have been the best part of the Congress. (Say at breakfast speaking with a book publisher from Ghana.)
We then returned to the auditorium to hear three UK Children’s Laureates, each providing a different perspective. First up was the delightful raconteur, Michael Morpurgo, an imp in red sneakers who gave the history of the UK children’s Laureate and ended by singing a song from the stage production of his book War Horse, almost convincing me to see it (as I’ve resisted feeling it would be too weepy for me).
Next up was former Children’s Laureate Anthony Browne (who looks in person as he does in photos with his 60s mophead:) who focused on his illustration, speaking of his “shape game,” and his development as an artist. The money tweet I got from his speech was: “Shouldn’t drag children from picture books too soon.”
Last was current Children’s Laureate, Julia Donaldson who was great fun indeed, focusing on the performance aspects of her books and stories. She has a background as a busker and, with her husband on guitar, did a bunch of incredibly fun songs and stories, one involving members of the audience.
The evening ended with a presentation of the IBBY-Asahi Reading Promotion Awards 2012 followed by a reception.
The IBBY Congress offered several pre and post tours and I was delighted to see one for the Lake District, long a place I’d wanted to visit for all its literary sites. The group was also an attraction as it was full of children’s literature enthusiasts from all over the world: US, UK, Australia, Thailand, Japan, Russia, and Finland.
On the first day we headed up to Windermere and took a boat ride across to Ambleside, a pleasant little village. The next day we went to Coniston and visited the eccentric and fascinating Ruskin Museum. In addition to a very edited version of his life (nothing on his sad marriage to Effie Gray for instance nor even a label for his children’s book, King of the Golden River) there were exhibits on Arthur Ransome (of Swallows and Amazons fame as it is set in the Lake District), mining, and a water speed racer who died in his final attempt also in the area.
From there we went on to Grasmere where I had a lovely time in William Wordsworth’s Dove Cottage. At the top of the garden was a lovely little spot to sit and look over the village and bucolic landscape. There was a book where visitors were encouraged to write or draw their responses. The one below was amusingly unimpressed.
And then there was this lovely little four year old who chose to draw a dinosaur.
We took Wordsworth’s favorite footpath along the River Rothey to Rydall where there is Dora’s Field of “I wandered lonely as a cloud” fame. I couldn’t stop thinking of Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair where the protagonist Thursday Next gets stuck in the poem and, adding insult to injury, is hit on by its creator.
On our final day we headed to Beatrix Potter’s Hill Top Farm which was predictably charming (with the obligatory collection of bunnies) and I took a pleasant walk in the area. Hearing a clarinet rendition of “Climb Every Mountain” I turned the corner to see this shrewd young busker.
We finished up at Bowness-on-Windermere that has a very British holiday feel to it.
And then we headed back to London, stopping on our way (as we had on our way up) at a place that had a Starbucks with these.
On my second day in London which was still hot and a bit more…er..humid I did two things I had wanted to do for ages.
First of all I headed to Spitalfields for Dennis Severs House. It was a Sunday and I was surprised at the crowds coming out of Liverpool Station until I realized that they were all headed to the Petticoat Lane Market, somewhere I’d been too many years ago. (At the time I picked up what I thought was a lovely heavy sweater which my British relatives thought horrid. My sister, I believe, still has it.)
I went on to Folgate Street where Dennis Severs’ house was instantly recognizable by its gas lamp lit door.
As instructed I pulled on the door bell and a man came out who gave me instructions, among them to be completely silent. The house is an experiential work of art by Dennis Severs, set up for you to imagine that a family of silk weavers named Jervis are living there. Each room feels as if someone was just in it — the food half-eaten, a candle snuffed out perhaps, a cat drifting through the bric-a-brac. You see letters, objects, all sorts of things that together begin to paint an image of the imaginary inhabitants of the house. I’d long heard about it and it did not disappoint.
When I went in the day suddenly went dark and there was a thunderstorm so the candles were all lit and the place dark, humid, and incredibly atmospheric. Perhaps the most striking moment for me was seeing the brass monkey bedpull in the main bedroom. For Laura Amy Schlitz had told me that she had gained inspiration at the house for her new and wonderful Splendors and Glooms (review to come) and so I knew to look out for that brass monkey — and there he was! I’d say shivers went down my spine as I not only was experiencing the Jervis’ imaginary story, but Laura Amy Schlitz’s too. A highly, highly recommended thing to do in London if you have the chance.
After that I went to the Cambridge Theater at Seven Dials to see the musical Matilda. It was absolutely delightful and I fully intend to see it again when it comes to New York in the spring. At the end there were many tears and flowers as it was the last performance for the little girl playing Matilda (who was excellent). One of my favorite moments in the show was when the Trunchbull threw the little girl with the braids because they didn’t avoid it (and also other nasty acts from the original story — yay!) and because they did it with old-fashioned theatrical methods, no projections or anything like that. Won’t say how they did it exactly, but it is great fun indeed. The heart of Dahl’s book is maintained beautifully with some lovely adjustments that simply strengthen it overall for the stage. Say a lovely running theme of Matilda’s storytelling prowess along with a new character who is a librarian. Here are a few clips:
The next day I headed off to the Lake District and my next post will be on that experience.
I think the heat just knows how much I hate it and follows me everywhere I go, in this case across the Atlantic to London. Ah well, at least the humidity stayed home and, besides, this warmth is making the folks here very happy indeed.
So arrived early yesterday, dropped off my luggage at my hotel near the Imperial College (where I will be in a few days for the IBBY conference) and strode off to Hyde Park. There I saw a huge sports thing being disassembled (enormous ramps et al) and excitedly asked if it was an Olympic remainder. But no such luck — it was some sort of winter sports demo with skating, ski jumping, and so on. Saw tons of off-leashed dogs. Since in NYC the dogs can only be off-leash in parks before 9 AM I was very jealous of the freedom these dogs had.
Ambled on along Kensington High Street where I was dismayed to see so many more US places than ever. I mean, TJ Maxx? (Showing my age, but when I was a kid on one of our visits to London my mom took us to the original Biba which was in the area I was in yesterday and where I bought some very cool red tights.) Tweeted yesterday that I heard a Staples ad on the radio at my hotel when I was checking in. I hate to be a whiner, but I grew up spending a lot of time overseas and I liked that these places did not look just like the one I left. Ah well, so it goes.
Then on to the Leighton House Museum which was splendid. It is the house of Frederic Leighton, a Victorian artist, and according to the website, “one of the most remarkable buildings of the 19th century.” It is certainly an exemplar of its period and I enjoyed it very much. If you like house museums (my favorite kind of museum) and the Aesthetic art movement (I do) I suggest a visit. By then I was shattered and headed back to my hotel for a sleep (I’m going to go all British on you language-wise:).
I’d unexpectedly met some old friends early and we later met for dinner. First we went to Fleet Street and I had so much fun looking at all those Dickens’ references. (I’ve just started re-listening to Bleak House and this is its locale). We then found Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, took a peek inside, and then went back out to wait for the Chop Room to open for dinner. (There is a small bar on the right when you come in and many more pub rooms down the stairs in a sort of crypt-like area.) There was a very amusing stag party going on outside, the bridegroom very buff in some sort of female slip with his sideman wearing a fox mask. They were all taking photos and being very laddish.
The Chop Room was lovely and you could just imagine Samuel Johnson and Charles Dickens there by the fire (which, fortunately, was not in use). I could totally see all the various places The Cheshire Cheese Cat took place. Best of the meal was the cheese plate we started with and the desserts we couldn’t resist: a ginger and butterscotch steamed pudding, a summer pudding of berries, and a lemon tart.
We ended the evening strolling along the Thames. Absolutely lovely.