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A Wisp of Wisdom: published today!

in: Cultural diversity

Book Birthday A Wisp of WisdomToday, we’re delighted to publish A Wisp of Wisdom: Animal Tales from Cameroon, Lantana’s outreach project. Happy book birthday to the collection’s wonderful authors Lucy Christopher, Abi Elphinstone, Adèle Geras, Elizabeth Laird, Sarah Lean, Gill Lewis, Geraldine McCaughrean, Tom Moorhouse, Beverly Naidoo, Ifeoma Onyefulu and Piers Torday, and its fabulous illustrator, Emmie van Biervliet!

For those of you who have pre-ordered your copy, this special book will be in the post and on its way to you early next week. We hope you love these age-old traditional tales about armoured pangolins, blue-bottomed drill monkeys, red-legged francolins and red river hogs (not to mention a cunning trickster tortoise!) as much as we’ve loved compiling them.

Just a reminder of the project:

A Wisp of Wisdom had an unusual birth. It began when a conservation research team in central Africa collected folk tales from their local chiefs and elders. It ended with eleven children’s authors, an artist and a publisher joining the project to help retell stories from the Korup region in Cameroon.

promo-spread-2-1Why? Good question. The answer is that Korup has rich stories, full of the animals that live in their precious forests. But the oral tradition that hands these stories down is being lost. And people in Korup have no books. (We mean this. No books. None.) And so the stories are being lost.

The original idea was to collect the tales and photocopy them, so the children would have something to read.

The original idea…grew.

promo-spread-4-1Wouldn’t it be good, we thought, to make a proper book. And to have lots of authors. And to illustrate it beautifully. And to raise the funds to print at least 2,000 copies of that book in Cameroon. And for the conservation team to then give the book back, for free, to the children of Korup.

A Wisp of Wisdom is that book. We hope you enjoy it.

To buy your copy, please click here.

Education Resources for the Year of the Monkey

in: Children's books

A post for teachers or any parents interested in finding Chinese New Year activities to work on with their children.

Chinese New Year is one of the most widely celebrated festivals on the planet. It is also widely taught in UK primary schools across the country: there is something about the kaleidoscopic colour, vibrancy and exuberance of Chinese New Year customs that make it a magical topic for young children to engage with.

Chinese New Year KS2 resources education Dragon Dancer Jeremy Pailler Joyce Chng

Dragon Dancer
Joyce Chng and Jérémy Pailler’s Dragon Dancer capitalises on this vibrancy and magic and, in this story, the Lunar New Year provides an intriguing back-drop to a traditional coming-of-age story. Yao, has inherited the role of ‘Dragon Dancer’ from his grandfather, and by taking part in this ritual dance, watched over by his predecessors, our hero is able to grow in strength and stature. The story therefore features a variety of themes that are ripe for discussion: the role of family and tradition in our lives, the importance of various customs to those celebrating Chinese New Year and the idea of ‘chasing away the bad luck’, which reflects the annual spring clean that takes place in many households on the eve of the Lunar New Year.

You can read more about what the author and illustrator have to say about their book and some of these discussion points, here and here.

Dragon Dancer

Lantana Resources
Available to download for free from our website is a range of educational resources that pick up on many of these discussion threads and help develop students’ abilities to discuss and question the text they are reading. Included in the resource collection is a page-by-page Guided Reading sheet and a Curriculum Map which shows how the story can be linked to a variety of different subjects, as well as providing the theme for successful assemblies and whole school events. In addition to this, you will find a bank of comprehension activities, a selection of grammar worksheets (linked to the KS2 national curriculum), some suggestions for more investigative projects and discussions, and a teacher information file.

RE Chinese dragon investigation Dragon Dancer

Resource Round-up
To supplement a study of Dragon Dancer, there is a whole host of resources and activities available on the internet for teachers to download. As there are more available resources than there are hours in the day, we have provided you with a guide to some of the best.

1. TES Resources provide a comprehensive gallery of resources on Pinterest, very helpful if you want to quickly scan a ready-made collection for ideas that would work in your own setting. There are videos, colouring sheets, inspirational ideas for stories and craft activities.  https://uk.pinterest.com/tesResources/chinese-new-year/

2. The Guardian Teacher Network published an excellent article in 2014 which gives a helpful overview of the best Chinese New Year resources that are available on the internet. A highlight for us here, is the link to a bank of Chinese New Year related creative writing activities billed as a resource to appeal ‘to even the most reluctant of writers’. http://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/teacher-blog/2014/jan/27/how-to-teach-chinese-new-year

3. The British Council’s annual education pack is, as usual, excellent and contains a real range of lesson plans and assembly ideas, many of which are linked specifically to the Year of the Monkey. https://schoolsonline.britishcouncil.org/classroom-resources/list/year-monkey

4. Top Marks win top marks indeed for their collection of practical activities. Their bank of resources provides instructions on making firecracker decorations, a red envelope and a monkey card, amongst others. http://www.topmarks.co.uk/chinesenewyear/chinesenewyear.aspx

5. The CBBC website contains a range of videos about Chinese New Year. There is a video on ‘Preparing for Chinese New Year’, one on ‘Celebrating Chinese New Year’ and one on the ‘Chinese New Year Story.’ http://www.bbc.co.uk/cbeebies/watch/chinese-new-year

6. The BBC Food website also contains what looks to be some delicious Chinese New Year recipes that could be used by the adventurous teacher in the classroom. http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/occasions/chinese_new_year

7. Children will always enjoy looking at how Chinese New Year is celebrated around the country. There are particularly extensive celebrations in Manchester and London. Time Out provides a good overview of the range of activities on offer around the capital this year. Visit London also have a Pinterest board full of images of people around the city celebrating the festival. http://www.timeout.com/london/chinese-new-year-in-london/ https://uk.pinterest.com/visitlondon/chinese-new-year-in-london/

8. For the technologically-minded, you can follow current news stories and up-to-the-minute conversations about the festival on Twitter by searching for #chinesenewyear.

 

Twitter Chinese New Year

 

9. And if you have time, and are ‘game’ for a laugh there’s always room for the obligatory humourous news story. Take a look at what the inventive people at Microsoft have done with the Xbox One to celebrate the Lunar New Year! http://www.gamespot.com/articles/xbox-one-gets-eye-catching-chinese-new-year-makeov/1100-6434302/

Caroline

Chinese New Year photograph taken by Global Jet and available from Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/global-jet/2256338278.

 

High Five! Highlights for Lantana Publishing

in: Children's books

As the dust starts to settle on the new year and people everywhere begin to wonder whether they can really stick to those rather ambitious new year’s resolutions, we’ve taken a look backwards at our best bits of 2015 and forwards at what’s to come in 2016.

 

2015: Counting down our best bits

Looking at our Facebook page, what Lantana posts did you most enjoy in 2015?

5) Reading the wise words from Dragon Dancer illustrator, Jérémy Pailler, about imagination and innocence: “Whether the dragon is real or not doesn’t matter. What matters is that it is real for the boy. This is where the beauty of innocence lies. And this power gathers then spreads positive energy to everyone.”

Read the rest of the interview with Jeremy on our blog, here: http://www.lantanapublishing.com/blurring-the-lines-between-reality-and-dream-an-interview-with-jeremy-pailler/

Dragon Dancer Joyce Chng Jeremy Pailler

 

 

 

 

 

4) Sharing the educational resources that are available to accompany all of our books and can be downloaded for free from the education page of our website: http://www.lantanapublishing.com/education/.

3) Checking out the fabulous review of Chicken in the Kitchen by Zahrah from Bookshy Books: “Chicken in the Kitchen works for a number of reasons – one is Okorafor’s imaginative words, which truly transports you into a world of mystery and magic … Another strength of this book are the breathtaking illustrations by Iranian-British illustrator, Mehrdokht Amini.”

Chicken in the Kitchen Cover Nnedi Okorafor Mehrdokht Amini

Read the whole review here: http://bookshybooks.blogspot.co.uk/2015/10/55-years-of-nigerian-literature-nnedi.html

2) Reading Alice’s article, ‘Top ten reasons we need to see more diversity in children’s literature’, published in Female First, in August.

Read the rest of this fascinating article here: http://www.femalefirst.co.uk/books/top-ten-reasons-we-need-to-see-more-diversity-in-childrens-books-868771.html.

1) Seeing the gorgeous cover art for Looking for Lord Ganesh when we first announced its upcoming publication.

Find out more about the book and pre-order your own copy here: http://www.lantanapublishing.com/shop/books/looking-for-lord-ganesh/.

Looking for Lord Ganesh Mahtab Narsimhan Sonja Wimmer

 

2016: Looking forward to more best bits

Jasmine Sneeze Nadine Kadaan Haroun cat Syria

5) We can’t wait for the publication of Looking for Lord Ganesh and The Jasmine Sneeze on April 11th! You can find out more about these books and their award-winning authors and illustrators by visiting our website, where you can also pre-order the books: www.lantanapublishing.com/books.

We also have a few more books up our sleeve so stay tuned over the next few weeks for the upcoming announcement of yet another Lantana title! We’ll give you a hint. It involves the most extraordinary jungle creatures you are ever likely to meet…!

4) Because we know that readers can’t get enough of their favourite stories, we are launching a range of book-related gifts in the Spring. From subscription packages to activity packs, you’ll be sure to find something to engage the young readers in your lives. Keep checking our website for updates.

3) At Lantana, we are committed to creating beautiful books to engage readers from many different cultures and backgrounds and want to make sure that these books reach the children who need them the most. This year, we are working with a charitable partner and a host of well-known authors to publish a collection of Cameroonian tales, re-told for twenty-first century Cameroonian children. Visit our website for more news on this project in the next couple of months.

Cameroon children's books folk tales Oxford University charity crowdfunding

2) 2016 is going to be a busy year, and we are already booking our tickets for this year’s book fairs in Bologna and London. We’re also hoping to visit some of Britain’s premiere children’s book festivals. Keep an eye on our social media pages and do come and say hello to us at some of these events over the year.

1) In 2016, we want to work with even more talented authors and illustrators. If you’re from a diverse background and have a picture book manuscript you want to submit, we would love to hear from you. Read our submissions guidelines on our website here: www.lantanapublishing.com/submissions.

And how do we know that 2016 is going to be a good year?

5) Award season got off to a flying start for children’s literature with the announcement that Frances Hardinge’s The Lie Tree had won the Costa Children’s Book Award. You can visit Frances Hardinge’s ‘Twisted City’ and find out more about her work, here: http://www.franceshardinge.com/.

4) #ReadDiverseDecember was so popular that it has become #ReadDiverse2016. Here’s to 2016 being a year of more readers buying and reading diverse books and publishers publishing them! Follow the Read Diverse team at @ReadDiverse2016.

ReadDiverse 2016 Twitter diversity3) Even celebrities are trying to get us reading a more diverse range of literature! In the first week of January, Emma Watson launched a Feminist book club, ‘Our Shared Shelf’, as part of her work with UN Women. You can virtually join the book club on Goodreads, here: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/179584-our-shared-shelf

2) You know it’s going to be a good year for children’s literature when the first week of the year sees the announcement of a new children’s book festival. You can read more about the National Trust’s Children’s Book Festival at Wray Castle, in the Lake District, here: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/wray-castle/features/the-first-national-trust-childrens-book-festival-at-wray-castle-.

National Trust festival children's books

1) Diversity in children’s literature continues to be a hot topic. Teen blogger, Safah, has already drawn readers’ attention to the need for books to embrace all aspects of different cultures and lifestyles in her recent article in Guardian Children’s Books. You can read her article here: http://www.theguardian.com/childrens-books-site/2016/jan/07/muslim-characters-books-diversity.

What a year 2016 promises to be! Sign-up to our blog, follow us on Twitter and ‘like’ us on Facebook to keep up with all the year’s news from Lantana, and to review our books, please visit Goodreads or Amazon.

Caroline

The Enigma of Invisibility – Four Reasons Why We Must Fight Against It

in: Children's books

Invisibility Flickr - attribution Loz Pycock‘Invisibility’ is an enigmatic word in children’s publishing. We use it when we note the lack of characters of mixed-race or culturally diverse backgrounds in mainstream children’s books. We use it when we ask: where are the black Harry Potters? Or the mixed-race Katniss Everdeens? Or the Asian Percy Jacksons? Or the Indigenous Charlies, Mathildas or Sophies? Despite many organisations campaigning for greater diversity in children’s books, non-white characters often remain essentially invisible.

On the other hand, the word ‘invisibility’ can also be applied to those on the exact opposite end of the spectrum. In books, no one thinks to mention that a character is white. Think how jarring it would be if we were to focus on a character’s whiteness when describing a classic novel. ‘This story is about a little white girl who chases a rabbit with a pocket watch down a rabbit hole.’ ‘This book is about an orphaned Caucasian boy who grows up with his muggle aunt and uncle.’ Whiteness, in books, is a given. It is a non-category. White characters are – in this respect – essentially invisible.

So how useful is a word that can mean its exact opposite with a simple switching of context? The answer, in fact, is very. It allows us to notice that books about diverse characters will always mention a character’s defining characteristics. If they don’t, we will assume that these characters are white. So somebody from somewhere has ‘ebony skin’ and ‘dark brown eyes’ and hair with ‘a thousand corkscrew curls’ while Mathilda or Sophie may or may not have dark brown eyes and curly hair but her ‘white skin’ is not worth a mention unless it is particularly pale.

Malorie Blackman Noughts & CrossesIn the defining Noughts and Crosses series, the clever trick Malorie Blackman plays on her readers is to reverse this usual dichotomy. For the first several chapters no mention is made of physical features, leading us to the false assumption that the family with wealth, power and influence is white, and the family that serves them is black. When Blackman inserts the innocuous little words ‘white skin’ several pages later, it hits us like a bombshell. Such a simple trick, but unbelievably effective.

Yet ‘invisibility’ as a term doesn’t end here. Invisibility in many traditional West African cultures, for instance, can take on quite different connotations. Véronique Tadjo, the celebrated children’s author from the Ivory Coast, argues that ‘invisibility’ is ‘the belief in vital forces animating all earthly creations, alive or dead’. Invisibility, in this West African sense, describes those aspects of the world that fall beyond the human, including the spirit world, the world of the dead, and the natural world. Invisibility here runs counter to the western rationalist assumption that the world is quantifiable, measurable, visible. To dismiss this West African world view as incompatible with our own understandings is to make other cultures’ belief systems essentially invisible.

Chicken in the Kitchen Cover Nnedi Okorafor Mehrdokht AminiNnedi Okorafor, author of our very own Chicken in the Kitchen, is an author who is acutely aware of invisibility – in all of its forms. Her strong identification with her Nigerian Igbo roots creates characters who are quintessentially hybrid figures, caught between the ‘vital forces’ that underpin their environments: characters with one foot in the spiritual world, and the other in the material world. Her books are suffused with what a western reader might term the magical or supernatural, investing them with certain traits common to the magical realist novels of Isabel Allende, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni and others, or the shamanistic novels of Michelle Paver and Catherine Knutsson.

But Nnedi’s exploration of invisibility is distinctly West African, with a focus on objects with special significance to traditional West African cultures such as masquerades and spirit faces, the language of Nsibidi (a set of symbols indigenous to south-eastern Nigeria), and traditional juju or witchcraft, which she underpins with a rich lattice of African literary references.

Yet, as an African American, Nnedi is not unaware of the alternative understandings of invisibility mentioned above. Her characters struggle with their hybrid identities in the face of cultural and racial prejudice. Just take this brilliant paragraph from page 3 of Nnedi’s Akata Witch:

‘You see why I confuse people? I’m Nigerian by blood, American by birth, and Nigerian again because I live here. I have West African features, like my mother, but while the rest of my family is dark brown, I’ve got light yellow hair, skin the colour of “sour milk” (or so stupid people like to tell me), and hazel eyes that look like God ran out of the right colour. I’m albino.’

Akata Witch Nnedi OkoraforNigerian, American, Nigerian-American, West African, black, white, albino… The novel’s young protagonist, Sunny, is caught at a crossroads between her multiple identities, pigeonholed to such a degree that she literally disappears behind all the labels. And here we find a fourth understanding of invisibility – the pervasive attitude that ethnically diverse characters must look, act or think in a particular way. The grouping together of whole races into groups with stereotypical features does nothing to help young children dismantle the root causes of racism.

As a publishing house, Lantana aims to shine a light onto the insidiousness of invisibility – the kind that erases characters of diverse cultural backgrounds from mainstream children’s books while at the same time underlining a set of pre-inscribed racial features in glaring red pen. Our books feature characters of diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds as the (unique) heroes of their own stories – not pigeonholed, stereotyped, made to fit some kind of superimposed racial label, or given a secondary role. We fight against the kind of invisibility that allows only white children to go on adventures…

Alice

Image by Loz Pycock shared under Creative Commons License via Flickr

Teaching Diverse Texts

in: Education

Teachers are understandably anxious about taking on fresh texts in the classroom because a new book means a whole new scheme of work and set of resources – a time consuming job for professionals whose enthusiasm is often stretched rather thin by the amount of tasks they have to cram into each working day. The problem is often compounded when teachers contemplate teaching diverse texts, which may not only be new, but also unfamiliar. In this blog entry, we explore creative ways to approach and reflect on diverse texts in the classroom, hopefully providing teachers with the inspiration they need to take the plunge and try out some genuinely multicultural material.

Chicken in the Kitchen guided reading primary Charles Kingsleys

Primary pupils complete a guided reading activity on Chicken in the Kitchen.

  • Wonder Box

There is something rather magical about opening a box and discovering what’s inside… Teachers can raise intrigue and create curiosity around a new text by creating a wonder box, full of objects and images that link to their class reader in some way. Allow pupils to open and explore this box group by group, or choose a series of volunteers to come to the front of the classroom and draw something out of the box to show to the captivated audience.

Stuck for ideas? A teacher using Chicken in the Kitchen in the classroom might include the following objects in their box: a feather, a yam (or sweet potato), a pepper, a bag of flour, a piece of wood, a mask (an African mask or picture of one if possible), a colourful scrap of material and a speech bubble saying, “Hello”. Any objects difficult to source can be replaced by pictures printed from Google Images (copyright restrictions allowing).

Wonder Box teaching resource

So, open the box, let the objects out and the fun begin! The variety of items in the ‘Wonder Box’ should provide pupils with a hands-on experience that will get them guessing about some of the key ideas in the book they are about to read.

Teachers could even challenge the gifted and talented amongst their class by asking them to draw out a concept map, suggesting possible connections between the different objects in the box and how they might link together to form a story.

 

  • Wall of Questions

To start, designate a wall or an area of the classroom as the ‘Wall of Questions’, making sure there is plenty of room available. Ask pupils to look at the cover of the book they are about to read together and, after some preliminary guided reading discussion, ask everyone in the class to write down any questions they might have about the characters and events depicted in the cover illustration. Questions could be addressed to one of the main characters shown, or to the author or illustrator, or they could even be more abstract.

All questions should be written on individual post-its and stuck to the ‘Wall of Questions’. Allow pupils to browse the questions on the wall and see if there are any that they can answer at this stage. Questions should be answered by the pupils writing directly onto the same post-it or choosing a different colour post-it for their response. This activity could be repeated at different points in the book and questions could be answered by the pupils after each round has been stuck to the wall. Alternatively, the teacher could wait until the book has been finished before the pupils start answering the questions.

Higher ability students should be encouraged to think of ‘big’ questions, particularly when they have reached the end of the text. For example, a pupil having read Dragon Dancer might ask: does good always win over bad?

 

  • Before and After

This activity works well if you would like your pupils to reflect on their preconceptions about cultures and traditions that seem very foreign to them. Every child in the class will need an A4 piece of paper divided in half: one side should be entitled ‘Before’ and one should be labelled ‘After’.

Before reading the new text, or even looking at the front cover, tell pupils where the story is set. Based on this information, ask them to draw pictures in the ‘Before’ box to illustrate their expectations for the story: what characters and events would they expect to feature in a story about Malaysia, for example.

Once the pupils have finished reading the story, ask them to draw pictures to represent their key impressions of the text in the ‘After’ box. Pupils can then consider the difference between the ‘Before’ and ‘After’ pictures in their boxes: where did their initial ideas about the culture in question come from? What sources, such as TV programmes, films, books or advertising, influenced their ideas? Why was the reality so different from their first impressions? More able pupils should be encouraged to reflect on the dangers of stereotypes and prejudices and how we can prevent these being generated in the first place.

 

  • Character Map

This is an activity that should be completed once pupils have read and enjoyed a diverse text in the classroom. To create a character map, pupils will need to draw out a wiggly path, to represent a journey, on a clean sheet of A4 paper.

character map wiggly path teacher resource

The first task pupils need to do is to draw a picture at the start of the path to represent the main character and his or her feelings at the beginning of the story, and then another picture at the end of the path to represent the character at the conclusion of the story. For example, a pupil having read Phoenix Song might show Arohan at the beginning of his journey sighing and looking fed up whereas by the end, he could be drawn as proud and jubilant, demonstrating that he has achieved something he hadn’t believed possible. Secondly, pupils should draw pictures along their ‘path’ to represent the key milestones that occur in the text – those that help shape the character into the kind of person they are at the plot’s resolution. Pupils could even name the milestones using mini signposts that would appear at various points along the character’s path.

This activity could be differentiated to suit a range of different abilities. Some pupils would benefit from an outline sheet, showing where each of the key milestones in the story appear, while other pupils could be asked to consider the pacing of the story and the relative positions of key events in the text. The latter activity could lead to a productive high-level discussion about the structure and ‘shape’ of stories.

 

  • Quilt of Key Events

This activity creates fantastic display work as well as bringing out pupils’ creative talents. In order to create a class quilt, each pupil should be given a small square of paper on which they can draw and decorate what they see as the most memorable moment from the story that they have just read. Teachers can be as creative as they like with this activity and could offer pupils a range of different materials (felt, tissue paper or dare we say it…glitter) with which to create their memorable moment. However, for those teachers short of time, this works just as well with good old fashioned colouring pencils.

Once all pupils have finished their square of the quilt, allow them some time to arrange the finished product for display. For example, pupils could consider whether similar squares should be grouped together or whether the key moments chosen by pupils should be arranged chronologically.

Sorting the quilt squares may provoke some pupils to consider the range of different interpretations of the text. Very able students could be asked to reflect on why readers interpret texts in such different ways.

Quilt of Key Events Chicken in the Kitchen

One of the directors records their memorable moment from Chicken in the Kitchen on a quilt square.

  • Morfo Moments
Morfo teaching resource iPad app

The opening screen of the Morfo app.

This is a high tech activity to finish, which utilises the iPad app, Morfo. This tool enables users to create an animated head shot, using a photo or picture that they have uploaded to the app. Pupils will need to take a photograph of the main character from the cover of the text to complete this activity (or more artistic students could draw their own version of the main character). Then, focusing on a key moment in the text, ask pupils to consider how the main character is feeling at this point. Morfo provides a modern twist on the traditional hot-seating activity, as pupils can then animate the picture of the main character they have uploaded to the app, by recording themselves talking about their feelings in the role of that main character. Pupils should be encouraged not to use accents to represent their character at this point in the activity, as there is the danger that they will quickly veer into the use of stereotypes.

If pupils don’t have individual iPads to use, this activity can work just as well with the teacher animating the Morfo at the front of the classroom, based on suggestions from the class.

Overall, this is a rather gimmicky but genuinely fun way for pupils to empathise with the main characters in the story they have read, consider their feelings, and understand the way that they have been shaped by the culture in which they live. For more information about the app, see: http://www.morfoapp.com/.

 

These activities should hopefully provide teachers with fresh ideas about how to approach diverse texts in the classroom. The first activity can be instrumental in generating wonder in young pupils and a thirst for new and interesting stories. The ‘Wall of Questions’ should reassure pupils that they shouldn’t be afraid to interrogate new ideas and experiences, while ‘Before and After’ may lead them to consider their own preconceptions about other cultures and traditions. Both the character map and the use of the Morfo app should provide students with an opportunity to empathise with people living very differently from themselves and finally, the ‘Quilt of Key Events’ allows pupils to share and appreciate the variety of interpretations that a diverse text can generate.

For more ideas about ways to approach our texts in the classroom, please check the Education page of our website (www.lantanapublishing.com/education). All resources available here are free for teachers to download.

RE religious education KS1 key stage 1 comparing festivals Harvest New Yam

Caroline