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Interview with Helen Limon, winner of the Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices Childrens Book Award

Helen Limon accepts her prizeHelen Limon was recently announced the winner of the 2011 Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices Childrens Book award.

The award is for a manuscript that celebrates cultural diversity in the widest possible sense, either in terms of its story or in terms of the ethnic and cultural origins of its author.

Helen’s winning manuscript, Om Shanti, Babe, is set in India and, like Takeshita Demons, includes elements of local legend and mythology. Just the kind of book I like 🙂

Below Helen is lovely enough to answer some questions on her forthcoming book, being a writer and what it’s like to win this writing award… THANKS HELEN!

– Why did you enter the Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices Childrens Book award?

I entered because it seemd a great opportunity to get a thoughtful reading of my manuscript and because I think Seven Stories is a fantastically wonderful and important resourse for children’s books and because some of the characters in Om Shanti, Babe such as Cassia’s gay dad, the deaf girl, Nandita, and the middle-class Indian family are not frequently represented in children’s books.

– Where did inspiration for Om Shanti, Babe come from?theyyam face
Inspiration came from a two week winter holiday in Kerala and was followed by months (and then even more months) of research.

– Can you tell us more about the mythology of the Theyyam and how it is important to the story (without giving too much away)?
The Theyyam is a very ancient and very colourful part of the spiritual culture of Kerala, particularly in the northern hill regions.

It is kept alive through private donations and celebrated by karali of many different religions and backgrounds.

In the story, Cassia has an encounter at the Theyyam which sets in motion some important changes in her relationship with the young Indian charater, Priyanka.

mehandi wet– What has happened to Om Shanti, Babe since winning the award?
Winning is AMAZING! I’ve had so many opportunities to be involved in interesting projects since the award and it has made me feel like a ‘proper’ writer.

How do you find the publishing process?
I love the publishing process – looking at book covers, thinking about strap lines and sharpening things up. I have even enjoyed tidying up my eccentric punctuation!

– Favourite part of being a writer?
The opportunity to talk to groups about why children’s books are hugely important and because they always give me tea and (great) cake.

– Least favourite part of being a writer?
Not having enough time to write!

– Advice to aspiring writers?
Read, write, read, write, don’t edit yourself too much, let it flow, make mistakes (sometimes they turn out to be the best bits) read, write repeat from start!

– And a sneak peek extract from Om Shanti, Babe: ( I want to read more!!!)

I went back inside and tugged at the doors. The wooden frame stuck and they closed with a bang.

Inside the bedroom, a ceiling fan turned, gently moving the warm air around just enough to make it breathable. I slid out of my shoes and put my bag on the bed nearest the door. The mosquito nets were a glamorous touch, but I’d expected our room to be a bit more five-star-and-mini-bar. Dad wouldn’t have rated it at all.

I cranked up the ceiling fan and, as the blades began to turn faster, something moved on the wall. A pale pink lizard had scuttled along and stopped just inches away from the light switch. It blinked. A tiny tongue shot out of its mouth and slid back between its jaws. I stood very still, holding my breath. The lizard blinked again as I moved slowly away from the wall and ran for the door.

Lula would have a fit when I told her and, while Mr Chaudhury got rid of it, I would be able to reclaim the order book. But when I got downstairs no one seemed bothered about mini-beasts stalking the walls.

‘They are called Geckos, Cassia. We think of them as our guests. They will help keep your room free of spiders and flies,’ Mr Chaudhury said. His teeth were very white and when he smiled, his mouth crinkled at the corners. What a creep. He’d made it sound like geckos were his best friends and that I was some kind of teen psycho-killer.

Lula looked a bit embarrassed. She had told me loads about India, but, clearly, there were some things she’d left out.

– More on this international and annual awardidiom booksellers (You should enter!)(Yes you!)
The Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices Childrens Book Award is for a manuscript that celebrates cultural diversity in the widest possible sense, either in terms of its story or in terms of the ethnic and cultural origins of its author.

The prize of £1,500, plus the option for Frances Lincoln Children’s Books to publish the novel, will be awarded to the best work of unpublished fiction for 8-to-12-year-olds by a writer, aged 16 years or over, who has not previously published a novel for children. The writer may have contributed to an anthology of prose or poetry.

The purpose of The Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices Children’s Book Award is to:

• Take positive steps to increase the representation of people writing from or about different cultural perspectives, whose work is published in Britain today.

• Promote new writing for children, especially by or about people whose culture and voice are currently under-represented.

• Recognise that as children’s books shape our earliest perceptions of the world and its cultures, promoting writing that represents diversity will contribute to social and cultural tolerance.

• Support the process of writing rather than, as with the majority of prizes, promoting the publication.

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Announcement of the winner of the 2011 Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices Childrens Book Award

Announcement of the winner of the 2011 Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices Children’s Book Award

This year’s  Diverse Voices award was presented last night at Seven Stories, the UK’s national centre for children’s books


Helen Limon accepts her prizeIt was won by Helen Limon for Om Shanti, Babe, a story about growing up, family and friendships that the judges described as ‘Fabulous . . . laugh-out-loud funny’.

Enter the 2012 award!

The closing date for the next award is 31st December 2012.

Want to enter in 2012? This is what the judges are looking for…
The judges looked for a strong story that an 8 to 12-year-old would want to read rather than a worthy book that overtly explores social issues. The decision to give the Award to Om Shanti, Babe was unanimous. The panel said: “The story is authentic, the narrative voice rock solid throughout, and it’s laugh-out-loud funny.”

More on Om Shanti, Babe
Om Shanti, Babe
is the tale of teenage Cassia, who is forced to drop her preconceived ideas when she joins her mother on a business trip to south India, takes in fair trade and environmental issues alongside Cassia’s struggles to accept her mother’s new Indian partner, her spiky tussles with fashion-mad friend-to-be Priyanka and her crushes on pop star Jonny Gold, and Dev, a boy she meets on a train.

More on the Diverse Voices award
The Award, now in its third year, was founded jointly by Frances Lincoln Limited and Seven Stories, the national centre for children’s books, in memory of Frances Lincoln (1945-2001) to encourage and promote diversity in children’s fiction. The prize of £1,500 plus the option for Janetta Otter-Barry at Frances Lincoln Children’s Books to publish the novel is awarded to the best manuscript for eight to 12-year-olds that celebrates diversity in the widest possible sense.

Ongoing success for the award…
To date Janetta has commissioned or published six books by writers who have entered the award: the Takeshita Demons trilogy by Cristy Burne, winner of the inaugural award, Too Much Trouble by Tom Avery, the 2010 winner, and A Hen in the Wardrobe and Chess and Chapattis, the first two titles in the Cinnamon Grove series by Wendy Meddour, who entered the 2009 award.

Paying tribute to the success of the Award, Janetta said:

”The exceptional quality of the winners of the first two awards is a real measure of the success of our Diverse Voices joint venture with Seven Stories. I am proud that the Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices Children’s Book Award is achieving exactly what it set out to do – to discover and encourage new writers of exciting, culturally diverse fiction.”

More about the shortlist
By coincidence, both the winner and the second-placed author in this international award are from Newcastleupon-Tyne (the judges are not given any details about the writers until they have made their decision).

Karon Alderman, who teaches literacy skills to adults, received the Highly Commended award for For Keeps, the tale of a young asylum seeker and her  family.

Australian author Michelle Richardson received a Special Mention (an award which the judges can choose to give to a manuscript that shows great potential but is not ready for publication) for Tek, about a young girl from the Aboriginal Australian Murrinh-Patha community who can communicate with the ngepan, the spirits of the dead.

Meet Helen Limon…
The winning author, Helen Limon, lives in rural Northumberland with her partner, a painter. Her daughter, who is studying tailoring in London, had an influence on the character of Priyanka with her passion for fashion. Helen spent her childhood mostly abroad until she was 10, including four years in Penang, Malaysia, where she learned about life in England from second-hand children’s books.

“Until we came back to England, in the 1970s, I thought most British kids were a cross between The Family from One End Street and Enid Blyton’s Famous Five.”

After spending her early adulthood travelling in Indonesia, Australia and New Zealand, Helen arrived in the North-East as a student at Newcastle University. She started writing in 2000 when she set up a children’s literacy project in a neglected allotment behind a Metro station in Newcastle. The project turned into a publishing venture for local authors and illustrators, Zed Said. Helen has just finished a PhD in creative writing at Newcastle University.

But where do you get your ideas?
The inspiration for Om Shanti, Babe came from encounters with local people on a 2009 visit to Kerala.

She said: “Talking to the mothers about their lives and their ambitions for their families, and listening to what the children said they wanted, inspired the story and made me conscious of the social and environmental themes that are woven into the book.

“My characters are not the sort of children that get written about much and I lived most of my life not in England, so I do sort of know what it is like to be different inside your head even if you look like everyone else on the outside.”

Launch of Too Much Trouble

From left to right, Helen Limon (2011 winner) Tom Avery (2010 winner – Too Much Trouble was released on the night) and Karon Alderman (2011 runner up)

And a Too Much Trouble party to boot!
The presentation at Seven Stories also celebrated the publication of Tom Avery’s contemporary Oliver Twist story, Too Much Trouble, winner of last year’s Award.

Presenting the Award, John Nicoll, Managing Director of Frances Lincoln, said:

“I’m delighted, once again, that the judges have found such a worthy winner, whose writing both entertains, and helps the young reader to understand the ever more complex society in which they are growing up. Truly this seems like a worthwhile project and one of which Frances would have been proud.”

Accepting the Award, Helen Limon said:

“I am thrilled to have won this award. Om Shanti, Babe was inspired by the families I met in India and the very positive response to the book is a tribute to them. Growing up, making friends and forming loving families across cultures is what my story and Diverse Voices is all about.”

Kate Edwards, chief executive of Seven Stories, added:

“Last year’s Diverse Voices Award winner Too Much Trouble, deserves to be a big hit. It’s a great story that brings the plight of many young victims of crime and exploitation to the fore. I’m delighted that 2011’s winning manuscript is another page-turning adventure, this time set in India. Seven Stories is committed to this prize and our work to promote new storytelling and to celebrate and recognise different cultures and experiences. The strength of our partnership with Frances Lincoln Children’s Books and the enthusiasm of the judges have, once again, made the Award a great success.”

The winner of the Award is chosen by an independent panel of judges. The distinguished panel of judges includes:

  • Trevor Phillips – Chair of The Equality and Human Rights Commission
  • Jake Hope – Children’s Librarian for Lancashire Libraries and a freelance consultant
  • Geraldine Brennan – Journalist and former Books Editor at the TES
  • Mary Briggs – Co-Founder of Seven Stories, the Centre for Children’s Books
  • Janetta Otter-Barry – Janetta Otter-Barry Books at Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

The Shortlist
The judges discussed a short list of four titles, without knowing anything about the authors. The range of material
impressed them. The decision to give the Award to the winner was unanimous.

The Winner: Om Shanti, Babe by Helen Limon
Synopsis: Cassia joins her mother, who runs a fair trade craft shop, on a buying trip to India, a country that she
mostly knows from her Bollywood dance routines. Troubled by a friendship gone sour at home, and feeling out of
place in a new culture that challenges her assumptions, she reacts badly to her mother’s relationship with an Indian
colleague. As Cassia sheds some of her preconceived ideas, she finds friends where she least expects to and starts to
realise her dream to follow her mother into business.

Highly Commended: For Keeps by Karon Alderman
Synopsis: Benedicta (Ben), her mother and younger sister are asylum seekers from Cameroon. While their
uncertain future and hand-to-mouth existence cast a shadow over Ben’s friendships and fun times at school glee
club and on church outings, she has decided that Newcastle is her home. With her friend Becky, she resolves to
help a bullied schoolfriend, Jaz.

Special Mention: Tek by Michelle Richardson
Synopsis: Tek accompanies her cold and distant father, an expert on Australian Aboriginal culture, to a desert
army base where her gift for communicating with the ngepan (spirits of the dead) surfaces just when it is most
inconvenient. (Michelle lives in Australia. She did not attend the ceremony.)

Enter the 2012 award!
The closing date for the next award is 31st December 2012.

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Three cheers for the International Children’s Bunko Association


Even when you’re straddling two cultures, it’s nice to fully immerse yourself in aspects of one. Like having a chocolate fish moment. Matter of fact, I’d like one now.

Like Miku Takeshita, the hero of Takeshita Demons, many children leave their country of birth to live in another country. My sisters and I did, leaving New Zealand to live in our mother’s home country of Australia.

Lucky for us, Mum had already introduced bits and pieces of Australia’s culture. We visited grandparents in Perth, we ate Vegemite with our eggs, we read Aussie classics like Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, The Muddle-Headed Wombat, Blinky Bill, The Magic Pudding

Culture shock and a new name

Even so, moving to Australia was a culture shock and full of all the adventures of a new school, new friends, a new way of speaking, even new names (I was suddenly Creesty instead of Crusty). But we explored this new life and grew to love it and now, years later, we are bringing up our own children in Australia.

But we never lost touch with our Kiwi roots. My sisters and I are, and will always be, a mix of Australia and New Zealand. We still love New Zealand and the childhood we had there. And that’s great…it adds to the melting pot of culture and experience that makes up the world. I think that’s the way it should be, that it’s vital that no child is forced to give up one culture to fit into another.

Celebrating the world’s children’s literature

BUNKO is a Japanese word meaning ‘Storehouse of Literature’. It is made up of two kanji: BUN (sentence) = literature and KO (warehouse) = storehouse.

That’s where the International Children’s Bunko Association plays such an important role for ‘international’ children, who move countries a lot, or who feel they are straddling more than one country or culture. It was originally set up in the Japan, as a means for keeping English-speaking chidren living in Japan connected with their culture and literature.

Each branch of the IBCA provides a volunteer-run mini-library for bilingual and bicultural or multicultural children.

Branches now exist in Japan, England, America, Australia, Brazil, France, Italy,  Germany and beyond. Overseas branches provide childrens books and cultural experiences celebrating Japanese language and culture, and the Japanese branches provide for children from French, German, Korean and English backgrounds and cultures.

The Great Piratical Rumbustification by Margaret Mahy

Never read it? You should! Mahy is a genius and this is hilarious at any age.

Helping kids to feel at home, wherever that is and wherever they are

Each ICBA branch aims “to create an atmosphere in which the children feel at home,” and I think that’s such a fabulous thing.

Sometimes it’s just so comfy to slip into a different culture completely, to stop straddling the fence between two cultures and totally embrace one or the other, even if just for a few minutes.

I do this every time I open a favourite book from my Kiwi childhood, everytime I open a can of Lemon and Paeroa (yum!) or bite into a chocolate fish (yum!) or peel open a Pinky Bar (yum!)(not all of my memories are food-related, I promise :-))

So three cheers for the International Children’s Bunko Association! I think it’s a tremendous service.

And thanks to Mrs Keiko Holt!

Many thanks to Mrs Keiko Holt, Japanese advisor for the Takeshita Demons series, for introducing me to the ICBA. Mrs Holt is an integral member of the ICBA in the UK and an invaluable part of the editing process for each Takeshita Demons book…. THANK YOU for all your hard work!!!

(Thanks also to Like_the_Grand_Canyon for the yummy chocolate fish shot!)


10 activities for International Childrens Book Day

Want loads more FREE ideas, worksheets and resources? Check out my *TEACHERS* page.

Celebrating international childrens books

I am a member of the Childrens Book Council of Australia and recently received their terrific February newsletter.

In it was an awesome list of suggestions for ways to celebrate International Childrens Book Day, which is on April 2, the birthday of Hans Christian Anderson.

Here, shamelessly reproduced so you can get inspired with your own ways to celebrate, are their ideas:

Nine activities for International Childrens Book Day

1) read and promote stories by Anderson

2) introduce folk tales from around the world

3) invite parents from other cultures to share their childhood favourites and folk tales

4) suggest that your book club read an overseas childrens book

5) encourage children to write a story about a child from another culture

6) start a pen pal club with children from abroad

7) encourage each class to create a diaorama featuring a folk tale or story from elsewhere

8 ) explore flags, food, clothing, housing and stories from other cultures

9) invite fellow staff members to have a lunch or gathering where they speak for about a minute or so about their favourite childrens book and light a candle for world peace.

If you’re interested in celebrating International Childrens Book Day with other book lovers, check out your local branch of the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY): many branches are celebrating with dinners, activities and more.

And idea #10? It’s my own creation: a monster activity involving international mythology and your favourite books

Want loads more FREE ideas, worksheets and resources? Check out my *TEACHERS* page.

Have fun and stay safe!

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A monster activity for celebrating International Childrens Book Day

Remember: tailor the spookiness of your creatures to suit. This drawing of a bunyip is scarier than anything I ever imagined!

Celebrating international childrens books

Looking for ways to celebrate International Childrens Book Day (April 2, the birthday of Hans Christian Anderson)?

Want to entertain a bunch of kids for a couple of hours?

Like to imagine weird and wonderful creatures?

Give this activity a shot: Remember…the creatures you talk about can be as scary (or not) as you choose.

For example, you might skip zombies in favour of fairies, or talk about unicorns instead of the Loch Ness Monster.

Audience: Children of any age (thought I recommend you tailor the scariness of the stories you choose to suit)

You will need:

– Sheets of paper

– Pens and pencils for drawing

– Any books that feature curious and fabulous monsters from around the world. For example:

A labelled drawing of the Japanese tanuki, thanks to the Shigaraki Tourist Assocation. What type of monster would you draw?

BUNYIPS DON’T by Sally Odgers features Australian bunyips;

TALES OF THE TOKOLOSHE by Pieter Scholtz features the African tokoloshe;

THE TANIWHA OF WELLINGTON HARBOUR by Moira Wairama features the Maori taniwha.

What to do:

– Read books about some of the weird and wonderful monsters that exist in mythology from around the world.
– Talk about some of the monsters that exist in Western/European mythology (for example, vampires, werewolves, etc)
– Ask the kids to grab their pens and paper and dream up their own monster. Encourage them to create a monster that is specific to them. Draw the monster and label its attributes. Does it have strong legs for jumping mountains? Does it carry a cake for feeding its friends? Does it wear sunglasses to protect its eyes from the snow?

Happy International Childrens Book Day!

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How to keep your New Year Resolution: Papier mache daruma dolls


Want something fun to do on a hot (or cold) day this holidays?
Want to make sure you keep your New Year Resolution?

Here’s the perfect activity to keep you busy AND motivated to succeed in achieving your goals!

Papier mache daruma dolls

Start saving old newspapers and grab some glue: you can make and paint a papier mache daruma doll, perfect for recording your New Year’s Resolutions. Instructions are below or you can DOWNLOAD THIS PAPIER MACHE DARUMA ACTIVITY HERE

About Daruma dolls

– Daruma dolls are based on Daruma, the Japanese name for the Indian monk who started Zen Buddism.

–  The doll has no legs, because the monk once meditated for so long that his legs fell off.

Symbolism of Daruma dolls

– Daruma dolls are heavier on the bottom than on top, which means they bounce back when struck down. This makes them a symbol of optimism, determination and good luck.

– For this reason, the dolls are often associated with a famous Japanese proverb:
Nana korobi, ya oki (七転八起)
“Fall down seven times, get up eight. ”

– Daruma dolls are very hairy, symbolising long life. His hairy eyebrows are shaped like cranes, birds said to live for 1000 years.

Daruma dolls and goal-setting

Daruma dolls are usually painted red, the colour of the monk’s robes, but their eyeballs are left unpainted.

When you decide to pursue a new goal, you paint one of the daruma’s eyeballs. When you have achieved your goal, you paint the other eyeball to match.

As you make your daruma, think about what you would like your goal or resolution  to be.

Instructions for making a papier-mache daruma

You will need:

  • PVA glue
  • Water
  • Icecream container
  • A balloon
  • Newspaper (torn into 3cm strips)
  • White paper (torn into 3cm strips)
  • Masking tape
  • An unwanted plastic bowl or dish (to form the daruma’s weighted base)
  • Paint

What to do:

1)      Mix PVA glue and water in an empty icecream container

2)      Tear the newspaper into strips about 3cm wide

3)      Blow up a balloon to the size you would like your daruma to be. Remember: daruma dolls don’t have arms or legs, and their face is slightly sunken into their bodies.

4)      Dip the newspaper strips into the glue mixture and cover the balloon in six layers of paper strips. Let the layers dry overnight.

5)      Use masking tape to stick the bowl to the bottom of the daruma.

6)      Cover the balloon and the bowl with more layers of newspaper, working to create the shape of a daruma doll.

7)      Use strips of white paper for your final layer.

8)      Paint your daruma, leaving his eyeballs unpainted.

9)      Think of a goal you would like to achieve. When you have decided on your goal, paint in one of the pupils.

10)  Put your finished daruma on display. Every time you see him, you will remember to work towards your goal.

11)  When you have achieved your goal, paint in the daruma’s remaining eyeball.


Other posts you might enjoy:

Hiragana word search: Find the yokai demons and practise your Japanese
Takeshita Demons: help us choose the cover art
8 cool myths about dogs, and why the inugami dog-god didn’t make it

Free stuff: more resources for teaching Japanese yokai or just having fun with monsters


The meaning (and luck) of Miku Takeshita’s name

I’m neck-deep in Monster Matsuri after a FABULOUS Children’s Book Week (hello to everyone I met: thanks for being such great audiences!).

So…a short but sweet post on the meaning of Miku’s name (which, incidentally, was originally Aiko, or “love child”…)

Miku can be written using several different kanji:

美空 – Beautiful sky

美久 – Beautiful long-time

未来 – Future

美紅 – Beautiful bright-red

But which did I choose?
Well, the kanji you choose when naming a child can be used to direct the fortunes of that child, so it’s good to choose names that can be written using a lucky number of strokes. For example, the number 4 in Japanese can be pronounced ‘shi’, which also means ‘death’, so 4 is an unlucky number in Japanese (like 13 in Western cultures).

Luckily, none of the kanji combinations for Miku require 4 strokes.

However, it’s not as simple as that. There are all sorts of ways the different strokes can be combined. I’m no expert, but I wanted to do my best to give Miku a lucky name. This was my process:

– Count the sum of the kanji strokes in her last name only
For Miku, this is Takeshita (竹下), which requires 9 strokes to write. This is not a particularly auspicious number, but life-long luck is not determined by this number alone. Your total fortune can be influenced by the strokes in the rest of your name.

– Count the sum of the kanji strokes in her first name only
This could be 12 (美久 or 未来), 17 (美空) or 18 (美紅). Fortunately for Miku, 17 and 18 are relatively lucky. Since this value influences Miku’s fortune in early life, I guess she doesn’t really need to have a lucky number here. Let’s face it, if your teacher is a nukekubi demon and your brother has been kidnapped, you’re not really off to an auspicious start.

– Count the sum of the kanji strokes in her first name and last name
This could be 21(竹下美久 or 竹下未来), 26(竹下美空) or 27(竹下美紅). Here 21 is a lucky number, which bodes well for Miku’s personal relationships.

– Count the sum of the kanji strokes in the last character of her family name and the first character of her first name
This is probably the most important number, and for Miku could be 12 (下美) or  8 (下未). Since 8 is a lucky number, and since the core of Miku’s fortune comes from this combination of characters, that left me with just one option:


However, even then there are some things to double check:

1) Are all the stroke counts for 竹下未来 either odd or even (= bad luck)
No! YAY!

2) Is the stroke count for her first name (未来) the same as for her last name (竹下) (= bad luck)
No! YAY!

3) Is the stroke count of any of her individual kanjis the same? (= bad luck)
No! YAY!

4) Is there some way Miku could write her name to give it her own special zing?
Yes! YAY!

And so that was it: Takeshita Miku is written 竹下未来 and means “Under-the-bamboo Future”. Which is a perfect name for Miku, since she carries so much hope for her family, and since her future is intertwined with the future of the world as we know it.

Good luck Miku!


The JET program, budget cuts and Return On Investment

My students meet my sisters on their holiday

Yokozo Japan!
I studied Japanese at high school, but my first trip to Japan was as part of the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program, or JET, a huge international exchange program that now has 50,000 alumni around the world. I was a JET in Kawanishi (the town Miku Takeshita and her family come from ;-)).

Mata ne, JET?
Thanks to JET, I had two brilliant years in Japan. However, the chance for other young people to share this experience is under threat: the Japanese government are considering a massive cut to the JET program’s budget, and although this is not surprising, given that  Japan has to tighten its economic belt, it is sad.

Remember, though, that JET began 22 years ago, when seeing a foreigner in Japan was as rare as seeing a sushi train in an Aussie department store.

Now, more than 50,000 young people have worked and lived in Japan as part of the JET program, which means tens of thousands of people carry a warm flame for Japan in their hearts.

Return On Investment: JET the catalyst
Warm flames aside, the Japanese government need to show concrete return on their JET investment, and fair enough too. In economic terms, my time in JET has sparked a whole heap:

– Education: As a JET I worked as an Assistant Language Teacher at the local high school, interacting with Japanese students and teachers, trying kyudo (archery) or chado (tea ceremony) and never quite brave enough to try kendo (you have got to be kidding!).  I encouraged my students to write and perform theatre, to create stories, to talk to each other in a foreign language, and I still keep copies of their work, and photos of our time together (we even performed our theatre at the school Cultural Festival…in English! Woo hoo!). I also worked with the Parent Association, holding English classes for interested parents and hosting our very own quiz. It was great fun!

– Tourism: My family of four visited me in Japan twice, and both times we traveled all over the country. I’ve also returned on a holiday with my husband and continue to encourage everyone I know to spend some time traveling in Japan. (My aunt and uncle were there just last month!)

– Industry: After JET I returned to Japan for a year, working as a technical editor for a Japanese company, contributing directly to the Japanese economy and continuing the good work that JET began.

– Arts: My time on JET directly inspired the creation of Takeshita Demons, a children’s novel that features a Japanese heroine, Japanese culture and traditional Japanese demons, or yokai. Takeshita Demons won the 2009 Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices Children’s Book Award and has been selected as part of the UK’s highly respected Booked Up program. It will be published in the UK, the U.S., Australia, New Zealand and hopefully beyond. Children everywhere are reading Takeshita Demons, learning more about Japan, and sharing JET’s vision for an international, multicultural world.

And remember: it’s 100% humidity

Multiculturalism: While working as a JET I assumed I was the only gaijin or foreigner living in Kawanishi – I never saw another in the street or in the shops, although other gaijin did live in neighbouring towns. With my white skin and unruly hair, I stuck out. I also did things differently: ate strange things at strange times, laughed at odd moments, marveled at ordinary things. And all of this is potent medicine for cultural understanding and cultural exchange. Now, thanks to JET, Japan is a much more international place than it was.

Internet shopping: My house is decorated with Japanese art and pottery and furniture, my bookshelves are covered in Japanese dictionaries and literature, my pantry is full of dashi and miso and mirin…

…and my head is full of Japanese memories and culture and warmth.

The influence of JET extends far beyond the classroom, acting to promote Japan and the Japanese culture whereever JET alumni are. In my case, I could never have written Takeshita Demons without my JET experiences.

So what to do?

In these lean times and hard times, it may be that Japan needs the JET alumni more than ever. That said, perhaps JET has done its job? There are thousands of ex-JETs spreading their enthusiasm for Japan globally, and Japan is a much more multicultural place than when JET first began. So what to do?

I respect the need to budget and perhaps the JET program is a more sensible target than health or science. But, whatever happens, the good work of JET should be celebrated and recognised and hopefully, in times more flush with cash, continued.

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Free resources for UK Children’s Book Week

Check out some of Shirin Adl’s fab Book Week illustrations!

Free Children’s Book Week resource pack!
Woo hoo! Another surprise in the mailbox this week:
A pack of fun things to celebrate UK Children’s Book Week (4 – 10 October 2010), complete with stickers, posters, a Best Book Guide and booklet full of Children’s Book Week resources (including teaching ideas, tips for planning a writer visit, activities and more!).

The resource packs are free and were posted to all English state primary schools, public libraries, special schools and initial teacher training institutions.

This year’s Children’s Book Week theme is BOOKS AROUND THE WORLD, so even if you’re not living in England, the pack contains heaps of relevant stuff to do and explore.

If you’d like a peak, free downloads of the Children’s Book Week pack are available on the Booktrust website. The pack features awesome artwork by illustrator Shirin Adl.

Key stage two activities: Takeshita Demons

Frances Lincoln Children’s Books are the major publisher sponsor of this year’s Children’s Book Week in the UK, which means Takeshita Demons is lucky enough to be featured in the book week pack.

Children’s Book Week is also sponsored by Crayola (thanks from kiddies everywhere!) and run by Booktrust.

Australia’s Children’s Book Week: not long to wait!

I’m doing some Aussie library visits for Australia’s Children’s Book Week (21 – 27 August) so plan to cross-pollinate and add the UK stickers to my pile of giveaways 🙂

And the last word goes to Children’s Laureate, Anthony Browne, author and illustrator of nearly 40 children’s books:

‘This year’s Children’s Book Week theme of books around the world provides a wonderful opportunity to explore and celebrate difference, as well as to read books that transport us to new places and introduce us to new cultures.

One thing that my travels have taught me is that children around the world have a lot in common; hopes, fears, joys, but most of all, a love of stories.’

And I couldn’t agree more! 🙂 🙂

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Who made the shortlist? 2010 Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices Children’s Book Award

Yesterday I was stoked to report that Tom Avery is the winner of this year’s Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices Children’s Book Award. Today, we take a look at other writers recognised at the award ceremony:

There was a shortlist of six titles discussed by the judges, and three other writers were invited to the Award ceremony to recieve awards and constructive feedback.

So who were these three other writers?

Highly Commended: Goal Dreams by Remi Oyedele
(Goal Dreams also recieved an Honorable Mention in the Literary Storm Novel Competition, so watch this space for further success for Remi Oyedele!)

Synopsis: Goal Dreams is a coming-of-age story about Ade Coker, a 12-year-old aspiring footballer from south-west Nigeria.  Ade’s pursuit of football glory sets in motion events that see him acquiring a new family, suffering from exploitation and travelling across the globe before discovering that dreams can be realised in various forms.

Commended: Rafi Brown and the Candy Floss Kid by Sue Stern


Synopsis: Rafi Brown and the Candy Floss Kid is the story of two children misunderstood by adults: mildly dyslexic Rafi draws brilliant cartoons, but is bullied by his teacher, Horrible Hegarty. Carer of a mother with M.E, Candy defies the educational welfare officers. The two bunk off to the People’s History Museum, where Rafi is inspired by a photograph of child printers during the Russian Revolution to draw an exciting graphic story. Back at school, Mrs Hegarty collapses at her desk, but Rafi saves her. Truth is revealed, Rafi’s gift is acknowledged, and Candy joins him and his mates at school.

Special Mention: Story Thief by Karon Alderman

Synopsis: Story Thief is the story of an 11-year-old failed asylum seeker called Arlie.  She tells the story of the days following the arrest and detention of her family as she tries to hide from the authorities.  She is supported by her friend Louise and two boys who have their own reasons for staying in hiding.

Tom Avery, winner of the 2010 award, will be featuring more from these talented writers on his blog: Too Much Avery.

Congratulations to everyone shortlisted, and to everyone who entered! Keep entering, keep writing!! I seriously think the best way to keep writing is to keep getting little drip-drops of encouragement, especially if it comes in the form of someone in the industry picking your manuscript as being worthy. If they’re not your mother or your spouse, and they still think you can write…then it’s probably true! So go for it and keep writing!

I didn’t place anywhere in the first writing competition I ever entered, but I won that same writing competition two years later, and with the same manuscript (only I’d been working on the manuscript for those two years, so it was a pretty different book by thhen :-))(and MUCH better!). So….hang in there, keep writing. Keep trying. If you want it bad enough, you’ll get it.