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Christmas Traditions – what are yours?

Returning from Japan recently, I noted a lack of Christmas decorations in the shops and windows. Naturally, with Buddhism and Shintoism being the philosophies and religious practices, it seems that the Christian meaning of Christmas is next to none. Growing up as a child my own family kept Christmas quite low key with basic decorations ( door wreath, hanging cards on a string and the tree) Now as a parent, grandmother and creative soul, I like to bring in touches of Christmas festive reds, greens and gold with some vintage finds, hand made ornaments, cushions, candles and tinsel.

Over the years I have enjoyed going to church singing Silent Night, O Come all ye Faithful and We Three Kings. Lighting candles, fruit mince tarts, garlands and wreaths on the door, even a bunting or two adds to the sparkle in the house. The star on the top of the tree, food left out for the reindeer, sacks and stockings filled with goodies – all the merriment of December leading to the 25th.

Do you bring out the traditional Nativity scene? Are their bonbons on the table?

Do you wake at the crack of dawn with wide eyed children pestering you to open the presents under the tree?

Do you sing Rudolf the Red nosed reindeer?

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Or bake the traditional roast pork and crackling with rich pudding, shortbread and rum balls? Traditions can take years to develop in families and they are passed onto the next generation. What are yours?

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Are you planning Christmas at the beach, a country Christmas, overseas Christmas or madly visiting all the in laws type Christmas? Opening the presents – how do you do that?

Many years ago in Scotland, I did not have a white Christmas; instead we gathered at church about 11pm Christmas Eve and came home in the early hours of the cold morning to open some of the presents, then we went to sleep. Different. Surprising. Memorable.

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Sometimes the simplest traditions are the best. Gathering with family and telling them they are loved. Remembering the birth of Jesus and the star in the sky. Giving to others.

Cheerful gratitude. The magical angel on the tree or the salads and seafood at the seaside; or roast turkey and plum pudding with custard; opening presents together; writing letters to Santa, carols by candle light.

“Yule’ in Iceland starts about 23 December; The Chinese Christmas trees are called, “Trees of Light”. Santa Claus is called Dun Che Lao Ren which means “Christmas Old Man.” The non Christian Chinese call the season the Spring Festival and celebrate many festivities that include delicious meals and pay respects to their ancestors. Nativity scenes are popular in Brazil. They are set up in churches and homes all through December. And in England, it is cold where families welcome the warmth of a Yule log blazing on the hearth. Holly, Ivy and other evergreens hang a mistletoe “kissing bough”.

Brooke from the Southern Highlands in NSW ( Country Style magazine, 2018) says, ” we always go a bit overboard dressing the house for Christmas and every year I make a new wreath for the wall. On Christmas Eve we celebrate with friends and family at the pub before returning home and feasting on a ham by our fabulous local butcher, Maugers Meats. Christmas Day is spent eating, opening presents, and playing games, and then we head down to my parent’s house at Narrawallee on the NSW South Coast to spend a few days recovering.”

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Kate another creative mum looks forward to a Christmas filled with fun and family traditions. “First thing on Christmas morning, the children find small gifts in sacks hanging by the fireplace, but the real gift-giving is a well ordered ritual. I hate the idea of a frenzy of unwrapping presents and I like each person to take their turn unwrapping so we can enjoy that moment,” she says.

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I sincerely hope you have an enjoyable Christmas wherever you live. Blessings, romance and lots of good cheer. And a shared story from a Christmas anthology.

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Kimonos, Kyoto and Kusami

It’s the little back streets in Kyoto that surprises await unexpectedly. The four Alaskan travellers with their backpacks getting ready to move on. The elegantly dressed girls wearing their splendid kimonos shuffling along, and sometimes with a handsome partner. It’s the maple trees that spread across the shrine precincts, the smokers, cats, the pot plants mingled with the hanging lanterns. Someone singing. A policeman guiding the cars and more.

I love the colours of the kimonos – vibrant, patterned, floral and pastel. To rent a full robe with accessories costs 2,500 yen per day. Tax is added to the price. Hair styles include furisode, hakama, homing, kimono. The obi sashes are elaborate and can be a contrasting colour. I believe the difference between a kimono and yukata is in the fabric. Mostly silk versus cotton.

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17 year old school students on a trip from Tokyo

 

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The shops are scattered everywhere in Gion where we are staying for 5 nights. The main shopping streets are busy yet there’s a peace. With our trusty map and never ending curiosity we walk to many places passing Shrines, temples and craft stores. What is particularly nice is escaping the crowds and sneaking away to the quiet gardens. Tall cedars line the steep and winding steps, gates await, and a Buddha carving so huge that Bill cannot stop talking about it. Kyoto is the mountain home of many ancient temples and old legends. And orange is a stand out colour to mark your bearings plus some gold.

 

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I won’t mention all the names of the shrines or explain the Shinto ways and Buddhist philosophy except to say that hundreds of Japanese worship daily, bowing their heads and clapping. Kyoto has the tall tower, Nijo castle, the Golden Pavilion, The Imperial Castle, Museums of traditional arts and crafts, Manga museums, Raku Museum, Shibori Museum ( where I took a the dyeing class workshop) and the Forever Museum of Contemporary Art where I was stunned with the screen prints and installations of artist Yahoo Kusama. Another hidden surprise. Today she is 89 years of age living in Tokyo, the one on the right!!

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Inside this gallery, our shoes are taken off, put into a paid locker and collected at the end. No photographs to be taken inside the 5 rooms, except for the ones I could. The brilliant colour of the paint, pastel and fabrics of Mt Fuji scenes, flowers and pumpkins was a site to behold. I kept pinching myself for being there. I will remember Kyoto for this pleasurable experience.

When you think of Kyoto, there’s meditation, Beef shabbu shabbu, authentic sushi, rice bowls, bars, beer and sake. I’m a bit side tracked with the ceramics, teapots and textiles, so Bill enjoys some people watching and comes out with the funniest stories. It’s difficult to purchase fruit ( way too expensive), trash must be carried out with you so don’t expect to find bins on the streets.

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a tranquil scene with fish in the pond

 

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When it’s all said and done, strolling is the answer. Through the shopping arcades, the narrow pathways, the modern and traditional blends of architecture, wandering and absorbing the culture and ways. Chatting to the school students and taking their photographs added a sparkle to the day. Even though we missed out on seeing The Swords of Kyoto ( at the National Museum – a one hour wait), we did encounter the Sagano bamboo Grove and Arashiyama walking tour with sweet Kimiyo.

Travel tips

No bungee jumping off the Kyoto tower

Watch your head because the Japanese people are small in height.

A great snack to eat is a chocolate and biscuit for 99 yen at the supermarket.

Write on gift packet who the gift is for back home.

Try a calligraphy class or tea tasting ( 8 varieties of tea – matcha, gyokura, sencha, and bancha)

A touch of red in Takayama

November in Japan spells Autumn – the season of red leaves falling. We are currently staying 3 nights in Takayama surrounded by beautiful mountains and it’s chilly at 8 degrees. Lucky for my planning, we are across the road from the bus stop and easy access to the shops and attractions. The red bridge is clearly found, the red hedges trimmed neatly in the gardens, and the lovely reds found in the many museums.

Today we visit Hida Takayama Museum of Art filled with decorative arts, Art Nouveau and glorious glassware. Outside there’s a red London bus, something that Bill has not been on yet.

 

 

 

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Hida dolls are everywhere, a symbol of Takayama

 

 

The Museum can be viewed from the Japanese Northern Alps and Takayama city. It is truly a beautiful place and we picked the best time at the start of the day when tourists were almost non existent.

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perfume bottle

 

 

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a glorious table setting

 

 

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fountain ceiling changes from green to red to purple

 

Now the Hikaru Museum out of town was even more spectacular in its architecture and style. It was opened in the Spring of 1999 and showcases exhibitions of history and works of art. The courtyard is based on the pyramids of El Tajin: an archaeological site of the Maya civilisation. Western paintings, Japanese paintings, a Non theatre made of Hinoki cypress, video library, and a collection of amazing Hiroshige landscape paintings. Storytelling at its best. Jaw-dropping in its scale and we cannot imagine the cost of this mighty building.

Bill and I found ourselves suddenly being invited to dress up. What an experience. And it was free. I realised the layers and skill of the kimono carefully placed around one’s body. And the wedding dress, well, that was magical. I didn’t have time to bother about my hair but from the pictures and reality of the geisha women, hairstyles are immaculate and well kept.

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a window view to the mountains

After a rest, (Bill sleeps quickly) and I write, munching on a Snickers bar I decide to visit one last gallery but at 4pm it is closed. I am disappointed. The Ukiyoe Gallery Garon had some famous works by Hokusai and Hiroshige plus a dramatic 3D ukiyo-e-experience.

A few tips.

Check the closing times ( I actually did but this gallery closed earlier)

Pay money at the end of your bus trip, not at the beginning.( very sensible and practical)

Expect warm hand towels for dinners, not serviettes

Take out all litter as there are very few bins ( we found none!)

Take the steps – it’s good exercise

A museum Hida beef and rice dish costs about 7000yen, well presented and tasty

 

 

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Tastes and Delights in Kanazawa

I am not going to tell you where this amazing place is, so that you can look it up on a map of Japan. The trip in the Shinkansen ( high speed train) from Tokyo took us about 2 hours. The weather forecast predicted rain and it did rain for the three days we stayed in an amazing Ryokan ( traditional inn) located in a mountainous valley surrounded by the beauty of nature. One of those days we decided should be luxuriating in the space of this accommodation. Motoyu-Ishiya has several tastefully decorated traditional rooms with crimson walls – the Bird Room, Quail room and Peacock.

Ishiya has a 100 year old Noh stage on the site and guess what? Bill and I could look out from our bedroom window onto the gardens and stage. The atmosphere was truly elegant and serene.

We were served traditional food with regional specialities such as fresh sashimi, steamed lotus root, steamed sushi, traditional duck stew. I counted 10 dishes for breakfast and what flavours!

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theatre stage outside
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7.30am breakfast on comfortable seats

The onset was another experience for another blog. Steamy and seductive, everything a grandma needs when travelling to unwind. Romancing with grandma involves my first ever hot springs soak in a bath. A wondrous and sensual experience and because I like hot water, it helped me to relax after the hectic Tokyo pace.

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Kanazawa Castle in the rain

 

The gardens in Kanazawa were sculptured, nurtured and mossy green with the most magnificent trees of pine, Cherry trees in their Autumn colours. The Flying Wild Geese bridge formation has 11 red tomuro stones laid out to look like wild geese flying in formation. Bill and I loved this garden with its perfection, stone lanterns and ponds, monuments, bridges and fountains.

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Bill with his twig broom

 

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It’s the simple things that bring pleasure, like these single floral stems in vases back in the Ryokan. The polite nod of the hosts, the slippers at the door, the hot green tea poured for us and the warm flushing toilets that I could easily take back home to Australia with me.

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Higashi Chaya District

The chilly days here at 14 degrees with clear umbrellas and warm coats saw us step inside the warmish shopping centres or Starbucks for the Wifi. And all those selfies taken by school students outside the shops made us giggle. It’s time to get to sleep under the comfy Doona on the floor ( the woven mats)  Stay tune for the next Japanese adventure.

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The temptation of Tokyo

Bicycles, black suits, bonsai, white masks on faces, sushi, seaweed and shrines – sounds familiar? Bill and I landed in Tokyo and what a big change to Australia. We have navigated the Japanese Rail stations on the green line, survived the hordes on the early morning trips to work, bought our reserve seats for Kyoto, Takayama and Kanazawa, and tasted brilliant flavours in the local cafes.

Staying in a small hotel room in Uneno ( a bit confusing to find from the station) our window view has hundreds of electric cable wires strung up like twisted ropes. Everywhere we look there are well dressed men and women in suits, funky platform boots, nodding with kind blank faces. Everyone here is connected and on their phones.

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Uneno Park is about 15 minute walk from the hotel and it’s good to see green spaces. Uneno zoo is famous for its pandas – adorable, chomping on bamboo. A market of wares and tasty food awaits us unexpectedly. Ceramics, bonsai, fabrics, jewellery, souvenirs etc are ready for the eager shoppers. We spot a Starbucks cafe and avoid it. Our stroll through the gardens is pleasant with mild temperatures – I must be the only one wearing a T shirt as the Japanese folk and tourists all wear jackets, coats and warmer clothes.

The Autumn Dahlia festival is on and flowers breath taking. Bamboo fences, water fountains and lots of pretty umbrellas. Even a butterfly has his place on the flower.

 

Meals are relatively cheap. We have tried a beer and drank green tea. Chopsticks I can use but awkwardly. Camembert cheese fried in seaweed sheets, rolled eggs with white bait and seaweed. Tuna with green onions. Black geoduck with sesame salt. I notice a mani crab miso. Bill and I are impressed with the service, helpfulness and attention to detail.

In the park we see Karamon ( Chinese style) temple built in the 1600’s. Gold dragons adorn the front. Lanterns are popular, steps are everywhere to climb and the elderly even ride their bikes confidently.

Today we are visiting Shinjuku and fascinated by the intense colour in the shops, the merchandise of Miffy, Pokemon, Miss Kitty –  Godzilla stares at us as we walk down the busy streets – a sea of black backpacks and me standing out in a red striped T shirt. Bill is hungry again so I’ll stop now. More pics and stories to come. I will leave you with these words – Ikebukuro, Narita, Yamanote line, APPLE STORE and a screaming toddler.

Favourite Children’s Books – part 2

I will let you in on a little secret – I enjoy writing to authors and love receiving their responses, so the next two writers both share their favourite children’s books. The Museum of Mary child, Clair de Lune and The Three Loves of Persimmon are written by Cassandra Golds, who is an Australian children’s author. Born in Sydney, Cassandra grew up reading Hans Christian Anderson, C.S.Lewis and Nicholas Stuart. It is the second one, Clair de Lune that captivated my grand daughter’s attention each night when her mother read to her. At 7 years old, the beauty and power of the story remained with her, as the language is poetical and fairytale like. Emotion runs high with her adorable characters making the reader fall in love with them. I was fortunate that Cassandra responded to my email. She writes.

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Dear Marg,

So pleased that your family liked my letter, and delighted to hear that you are reading The Three Loves of Persimmon. I do hope you enjoy it. I must tell you, before I go on, that although I came up with Epiphany myself, I borrowed the idea of the Infant Phenomenon from Dickens! (There is a marvellous character in Nicholas Nickleby who goes by that name.) My Infant Phenomenon, Daisy, also owes something to a very funny character in Huckleberry Finn, who writes maudlin poetry. I collect things from all over the place!

My five favourite children’s books are:

Down in the Cellar by Nicholas Stuart Gray

The Stone Cage by Nicholas Stuart Gray

The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis (I’m counting them as one book)

Hans Christian Anderson’s Fairy Tales

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken

 

My favourite children’s illustrator is Edward Ardizzone. Why? There is something so gentle and loving about his drawings—they are so evocative, and they also have a certain delicate mystery. They somehow look like how I feel!

Good luck with your blog!

With kindest regards from

Cassandra

www.cassandragolds.com.au

 

My next Australian author, Michael Gerard Bauer recently won the prestigious Picture Book of the Year with Rodney Loses it about a rabbit who loses his pen while working at his drawing desk. The search to find the missing pen is what drives the story. Hilarious, down to earth and contagious in its narrative. The Running Man has been so popular in schools as it won the CBCA Book of the Year for Older Readers and his comedy book about a grade 5 boy called Eric Vale is also a winner.

Like Cassandra, Michael believes you should write the stories that you would like to read.

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Hi Marg

You know every reader and writer hates questions like these! Narrowing down favourite books is near impossible and even if you do manage it, you just know that right after you send them in, you’re going to think of other ones you wished you’d mentioned.  But I’ll have a go. And I’m going to stick to books for younger readers and mainly picture books, rather than YA.

My favourite children’s book when I was a child was Wind in the Willows. Brilliant range of totally believable, lovable and eccentric characters, plus an exciting adventure story. And who wouldn’t love messing about on boats with Moley and Ratty?

When our kids were little two of the picture books my wife and I loved to read with them were Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox and Julie Vivas and Bruno’s Band by Benedict Blathwayt. Even today whenever we’re feeling particularly happy or grateful one of us might quote part of the last lines of Bruno’s Band, “There is no better life than this,” said Bruno.

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My all time favourite picture book for adults or children is Shaun Tan’s The Arrival. A masterpiece.

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And recently I’m a fan of anything by Caroline Magerl particularly Hasel and Rose. I love her artwork. I think she’s a genius.

Picking a favourite international writer and illustrator is a bit tricky for me. All my favourites tend to be Australian. So I’ll just go for Roald Dahl for the originality and surprising nature of his stories and Oliver Jeffers for the simplicity and innocence of his drawing style.

So that’s a few of my favourites – plus of course all the other ones I’ll think of immediately after I press SEND!

 

Cheers

Michael

 

 

Can you pick the top five?

Recently I emailed some special children’s authors about their favourite 5 children’s books. No easy feat. Always difficult to choose. However, I received prompt replies and I share them with you. As well, I asked them to choose an international writer or illustrator they liked and why. Their carefully chosen lists have inspired me and I trust they will broaden your world too.

Lesley Gibbes, has a similar surname to mine and she write fast paced action stories for 8+. She also has an excellent course in writing chapter books for emerging authors.

Hi Margaret,

My top 5 favourite picture books are-

Bear and Chook by the Sea by Lisa Shanahan  -Brilliant use of sound and patterning

The Wrong Book by Nick Bland  -Love his humour

That’s Not a Daffodil by Elizabeth Honey   -Clever and insightful

Rudie Nudie by Emma Quay  -Love the rhythm and rhyme

Where the Forest Meets the Sea by Jeannie Baker  -Thought provoking, beautiful

My favourite international author is Louis Sacher from America. My favourite book of his is Holes written in 1998. I loved reading this book to senior primary and recommending it to younger gifted readers. The story centres around Stanley Yelnats an unlucky teenage boy whose life is cursed. He’s sent to a juvenile corrections facility in a desert in Texas after being falsely accused of theft. His punishment is to dig holes all day everyday. I love the interconnecting stories and layering of past and present events. It’s quirky, unusual. funny and unexpected.

I don’t have a favourite international illustrator. My favourites are all Australian! My very first favourite as a child was Pixie O’Harris who wrote and illustrated The Fairy Who Wouldn’t Fly.  Actually I just looked her up and she’s born in Wales and migrated to Australia with her parents.

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Living on the Blackall ranges not far from me, lives author/ illustrator Peter Carnavas, who loves Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake. Humour and nonsense make their mark in these books just like Pete does in his magic with pictures and words. It’s the ordinary things in life that can be transformed with this author’s skill and clever illustrations. As Peter says, I cannot think of ‘anything more lofty or rewarding than the goal of writing and making art for children.’

Hi Marg,

Great to hear from you.  Yes, the holidays are going well, but zooming by.

My five favourite children’s books?  That’s about the hardest question ever but I’ll give it a go.  If I wrote them down tomorrow, I’d probably have five different books.

Pookie Aleera is Not My Boyfriend, by Steven Herrick

Amy and Louis, by Libby Gleeson and Freya Blackwood

The BFG/Matilda, by Roald Dahl (I’ve included them as a tie, as I can never decide my favourite)

Just a Dog, by Michael Gerard Bauer

Clown, by Quentin Blake

International author/illustrator?

I’d have to say Quentin Blake.  He’s been my hero since I was a kid.  I love how expressive and moving his illustrations are, even when they look so scratchy and quickly drawn.

All the best,

Pete

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Illustrator Quentin Blake

 

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The next writer, poet who I emailed is Janeen Brian. She grew up in the city of Brighton, South Australia, trained as a primary teacher, began a children’s theatre company and has also been involved in over 100 television and radio commercials. Presently, Janeen has written over 80 books, from picture book to poetry, short fiction, non fiction and novels. I have always enjoyed attending any workshops Janeen presents as she captivates the audience with beautiful language, alliteration, rhyme and simile.

Hi Marg,

Thanks so much for your email. And thank you, too, for your kind words. They are much appreciated.

Favourite 5 children’s books: (tough question!!!!)

Because of Winn-Dixie (Kate di Camillo)

Coraline (Neil Gaiman)

The True Story of Lilli Stubeck (James Aldridge)

The Simple Gift (Steven Herrick)

The Story about Ping (Marjorie Flack & Kurt Wiese)

International author/illustator: (tough question number 2!!)

I’d love to say Jacqueline Wilson – for getting into the heart and soul of kids and dealing with tough issues in a human, some times amusing and hopeful way AND Michael Morpurgo, who takes a real life incident and writes wonderful stories and writes as he says, ‘as if to a friend’,

BUT

I’ll go with Kate di Camillo;

Her body of work inspires me, because she writes with such depth of feeling in such an accessible way. Her words read as poetry, with not a word wasted or overused, and her narratives are original and always compelling page turners. I may not always remember the whole plot but I remember her characters and the feeling that is left with me after I close the book.

With thanks and kind regards,

Janeen

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American author Kate di Camillo

 

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Back in Queensland is a talented author Aleesah Darlison who as a child growing up in the bush had loads of pets and wild animals. She loves writing stories about animals. After 25 years in Sydney, her family have moved to the Sunshine Coast where she loves the rainforest and wild kangaroos living nearby. Aleesah has published the Unicorn Riders series, picture books like Fox and Moonbeam, Little Meerkat and many more.

 

Hi Marg

Just getting back to you on these questions… it’s tricky as I love so many authors and it’s so hard to choose!

(Some of my) Top 5 favourite children’s books:

The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Once by Morris Gleitzman

The Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Strawberry and the Big Hungry Bear by Don Wood

The Wrong Book by Nick Bland

International writer who I admire:

Alexander Cordell – I’ve always, always loved his sweeping historical Welsh sagas, ever since I was a teenager, and the characters he creates. The copies of his books I own are precious to me. Of course, Charles Dickens, Emily Bronte, Thomas Hardy are firm favourites too.

International illustrator who I admire:

Sarah Hinder – and English illustrator who I chose to work on my picture book, Spider Iggy. I fell in love with her gorgeous, colourful and sweet animal characters ages ago and I still love her work.

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You might consider sharing a couple of your favourites. Stay tune for the next inspiring children’s writers and their favourites.