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Amazing Authors in August!

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We wanted to find out what some of our amazing authors get up to in the summer months! Are they furiously writing their next masterpiece, surfing the seven seas, trekking through the Himalayas or curled up in the sun with a good book? Read on to find out more…

Introducing…..

Emma Cox

Summer is finally here! In three words, tell us how are you spending your summer this year?

Writing. Friends. Cornwall.

Childhood memories – what was summertime in your childhood like?

We usually went on holiday to France or Denmark. I remember very clearly, when I was five years old, we were staying in a chalet in France and there was a box of sugar cubes in this chalet. I’d never seen sugar cubes and I wanted to eat them. I wasn’t allowed so I ran away – for most of the day – I got quite far. When I was found and brought back I was allowed to eat them all. I also remember great big ice-creams in Tivoli Gardens, and these wonderful hotdogs with mustard in Denmark, and the Danish pastries in the mornings in the bakeries. I now reflect and realise this is all about food – I was born under a greedy star, what can I say?

Where would you most like to Get Caught Reading this summer & why?

I’d love to be in a hotel called Le Sirenuse in Positano – oh it’s so beautiful by the sea there and the lemons are huge and it’s no distance to Capri and you can watch out for mermaids. It’s the nicest hotel I’ve ever stayed in. Sadly, I’m not there now. Maybe next year. I’d have to sell an awful lot of books to achieve this, however, an awful lot. Best keep writing and wishing.

You create amazing characters in your books! Which one would you choose to spend summer with & why?

I would choose a seagull called Horatio. I like him very much, he’s a jolly chap, and I can imagine him landing by me on the beach for a chat and a bit of moral guidance (which might look a bit odd, but hey ho).

Reading is the ultimate escape! Which book ‘world’ would you escape to for summer & why?

Oh my goodness. The very first thought that springs into my mind is of the hot summer at the beginning of The Bell Jar. Not because it’s cheery! But because I’d love to talk to Sylvia Plath (I always read Esther as Sylvia) and get those free lunches and make up and have a driver take me through a time and place – New York then, imagine! And wear gloves and be proper and eat caviar and avocado and crabmeat. Then come home before she goes properly downhill. Oh, I would have loved to have spoken to Sylvia Plath right then and there. My second thought is the island in The Tempest. But I’d be up with Ariel, learning what the fairies know, not down with the mortals. I want to sleep inside flowers and ride on the bat’s back and learn magic and practice controlling the elements and get a bit better at it each day. What a lovely question.

Summer survival – name the three most essential things you take on holiday?

Sunblock. Imagination. Euros.

Summertime selfie – who would you have a selfie with this summer & why? (Fictional, historical, alive today)

Tom Hardy. Thanks. Is it true? May I? Good. I’ll hold you to this.

Summertime travel – train, plane, automobile or other?

Plane. I just like to get there. I like the bit when you get off the plane and are hit by the heat and the smell of a different country and you think holiday!

Inside or outside – best place to be creative in the summer? 

I can only write indoors. And I prefer writing when it’s raining, so I don’t feel I’m missing out on all the life going on outside. It’s pouring down in Exeter right now, so I am writing! Hurray! 

Stuck on permanent summer vacation? What three books would you choose to have with you?

This would change, but the mood I’m in at present it would be:

For Esme With Love and Squalor – Salinger (that would never change).

The Complete Poems of Anne Sexton

It would have to be the Complete Works of Shakespeare – as you could spend a lifetime on those words, couldn’t you? 

Thank you for participating – have a great summer!

Booktrust

A review of Malkin Moonlightmalkinfoil

by Emma Cox

Malkin Moonlight is given his wonderful name by the Moon, who also tells the tiny black kitten that he is destined for great things. Following his sixth sense, he is drawn to Roux – a lovely domestic kitten, the colour of smoke – and the two soon fall in love.

When Roux’s family decide to move, Roux chooses to stay with Malkin, which means the two cats must find a new home where they can live together safely. The recycling centre seems like the perfect place – but little do they know, a war is coming. And it’s a war that will see Malkin fulfil his destiny.

This charming, magical story reads like a classic. It is beautifully written and populated with fabulous characters. Malkin is a fantastic protagonist: caring, inquisitive and sensitive. It is no wonder that this won the National Literacy Trust’s New Children’s Author Prize.

 

Publisher: Bloomsbury

thebookactivist reviews Malkin Moonlight

 

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the bookshelf 

Featuring a range of books, the bookshelf highlights some great reads.  Unless stated otherwise, all reviews are written by The Book Activist.  If you have a suggestion or would like to a review a book for the bookshelf please email thebookactivist@gmail.com. 

Happy reading!  

Malkin Moonlight, Emma Cox       Age 8+

Malkin is a Hero. He just doesn’t know it yet. On his third life, Malkin falls in love with a Domestic, Roux. Together they explore the night and have adventures. But when her owners decide to move away Roux chooses to become a Wild and live with Malkin.  Setting out to find a new home, they stumble across a recycling centre full of cats – at war.  Can Malkin realise his destiny and find a way to bring peace to the land?

Malkin Moonlight has a difficult start to life but is blessed and encouraged by the Moon, who helps him realise he is destined for greatness.  Danger is never far away but when he is rescued by Roux, Malkin falls head over heels in love and their romance blossoms.  Malkin proves his heroic nature time and again, helping out animals in distress and befriending all he meets.  Learning from each other, both Roux and Malkin discover bravery and new skills – Roux even teaches Malkin to read! Their perfect union is blessed by the Moon who gives them the mark of a wedding ring on their paws.  But Roux is a Domestic and not used to the ways of the Wild; it’s only her love for Malkin that draws her to his side and leads them on the path of adventure.  The call to the Wild is strong and finally Malkin and Roux search for a place they can call home.  On finding the recycling centre, they make many new friends each with their own story. But all is not what it seems and Malkin will have to confront his greatest fears and formidable enemies if he is to save the one he loves, unite the warring cats and create a peaceful home for all.

This is a lovely classic adventure story, with a gentle narrative that draws the reader in to the wonderful world of cats.  Malkin is a delightful character, full of charm and very humble about his heroic deeds.   The Moon has seen Malkin’s heart for helping others and bestows on him a beautiful white fur ring around his neck.  You can see why Roux would instantly fall for this wonderful cat who is so kind and fearless, even when he himself is in peril.  The author cleverly weaves the belief that cats have nine lives and a sixth sense into the story, creating some heart-breaking moments.  The romance is very sweet, but balanced with scenes of danger and daring. The cast of characters includes a wonderful seagull named Horatio and an array of remarkable cats. I particularly enjoyed the fabulously French blue cat, Marmelade and the very aptly named baddie cat, Toxic.   It turns out Malkin’s destiny is to bring peace to two warring tribes of cats, a theme which will draw parallels with many of the events in today’s world. Malkin’s reluctance to use violence is very noble, a sentiment all will appreciate.   Friendship, kindness, bravery and family are central to this story as is the importance of looking after our environment.  A must read for anyone who likes cats!

‘When I learn something that makes my writing better, the first people I want to tell are the children I teach’

15th July 2016 at 08:03 writing for the TES.
Teachers and authors use the same processes: they try to explain the pictures in their heads. Writing her first novel has, therefore, helped this English teacher to improve her classroom practice

Reading and writing are flip sides of the same coin, and neither would exist without the other. Reading paints pictures in the mind: the beautiful alchemy of these little black shapes on a page turning into moving, coloured, vivid images in the dark space of the brain. As a writer puts words down, they have these pictures forming in their head, and they are passing them on to you, to see if you can share the same experience.

Words are magic. They are at the heart of all that is significant in our lives and we must love them and be careful with them.

As a teacher, I’m using the same process that I do as a writer. I am trying to explain the pictures in my head, so the children say “Yes!” when they’ve just read Seamus Heaney’s poem Digging for the first time, and they understand about that “squat pen”, and how important Heaney’s father was to him. They cross over the “stream-path” with me when we read Charles Causley’s Eden Rock.

The children teach me right back: I’d never really understood “The deer are on the bare-blown hill/Like smiles on a nurse” in The Warm and the Cold by Ted Hughes. This year several children offered me explanations, and they were really good explanations, and I felt the light of “Oh yes!” come on in my brain.

With fiction, there is a need for me to be quiet and let the words work for themselves. I love the atmosphere in my classroom during the final pages of Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls. With Shakespeare, everything comes alive. We have to get up and march out iambic pentameter; we have to wade through blood, and not turn back. I am told I make a good Lady Macbeth.

‘Why would I expect a child to write like this?’

My teaching career has been a long journey through many cities and schools, ending up as head of English in an independent school. Much like dropping all those subjects you never loved so well to focus on your A levels, and then finally your degree, I’ve honed it down to the subject I love best. So all day, every day, I teach English literature.

Teaching has given me the confidence to know what children love reading in each year group, although a wonderful teacher can bring any text to life. I remember when the literacy strategy came in; Philip Pullman and other authors rose up to say, “Hold on, how are children meant to be creative in a 20-minute chunk?” or whatever it was. “How can they express themselves in exams that are so rigidly searching for A and B, that a massive dose of C is utterly overlooked?” Many of them said they themselves would not pass these exams.

This year, there has been a similar outcry over national tests. All of this has a resonance with me: I think, “Yes, I would not write like this; I do not write like this. Why would I expect a child to write like this?” And I love words too much to care about grammatical terms. It’s their effect that concerns me.

100 different words for ‘said’

This year of my teaching career has made me realise that the conditions I need to write in need to be mirrored in my classroom. And that, as scared as I am of people reading my words, the children are too. My words on a page are no more significant than a child’s, and it has cost them just as much. In fact, I am pretty sure their words are more precious.

There used to be this poster in classrooms called something like “100 different words for ‘said’”. It implied that the word “said” is boring, when you could write “exclaimed!” or “whimpered” or whatnot. Me, I like “said”, or better still, nothing at all. I love when dialogue flows and I hate when it jars, so I would not teach children any differently. I don’t think you should keep any of the secrets of the magic of language up your sleeve, until, say, these children have become university students. When I learn something that makes my writing better, of course the first people I want to tell are the children I teach. When I see them putting it into practice, it melts my heart. I can only teach them what I love. Language is so personal. Mercifully, they will have plenty of other English teachers, who will love different things, and provide a well-rounded education, and eventually the children will forget about the teacher they had in Year 6 who hated exclamation marks.

I let the great writers do my job for me. I love that my children’s writing changes after the poetry of Ted Hughes, that after reading the line “a star falls”, sitting in its own space, their words start dropping and spinning and flying around, and they change again after Lord of the Flies with stark narrative amid gorgeous description.

Twenty-two thickets

I’ve learned a lot about editing this year, so I’ve been sharing this. Reading the final chapter of Lord of the Flies, my Year 7 class picked up on the repeated use of the word “thicket”. This caused a great deal of mirth, but I realised that, by going through the editing process of my novel, and talking to them about it as I was doing it, I had conferred on them that which I had at the time: a flinching mechanism every time a word was repeated on a page. There were 22 thickets and 13 ululations, and 11 children who were going to edit their writing more carefully.

I know that to write I need to sit in a room and not move much for days. That’s just me. I don’t plan because I can’t, I just write a word and another follows. When I get into that lovely state, things start writing themselves. When I get out of it, my mind shuts down on anything creative. In the latter half of the summer term everything at school is so busy, busy: I marked hundreds of test papers, and finished writing hundreds of reports, and completely rewired my sleeping patterns to be up at 4am. When the holidays come round I’m back to being creative: I wake up, or wake myself up, with ideas.

So I need to give the children I teach the space to be creative, the right tone in the classroom, and the encouragement to let them share and talk and daydream a bit. They should be writing at home, taking ideas forwards and backwards, noting down thoughts when they come. Writing doesn’t just happen in lesson times: if a child is a writer then it is a constant state.

Now we know about readers. Some children just are. Their appetite for books is the same as mine for food at 11am playtime. I’d eat anything then. Any old leftover flapjack in the staffroom. With these children it’s just your job to keep them in books. Keep feeding them. Direct them towards the library.

The ones who don’t love reading so much, or perhaps don’t love fiction so much – because, oh, how they fight over the Guinness Book of Records – these are the ones you’ve really got to work to inspire. I find the best way is to read the books, poems and plays with them that I love.

A little bit of magic

So, now, as my book is about to be published, I think: “How has all this teaching helped me as an author?”

Well. It’s given me the time to write (holidays, hurray); it has given me the confidence to think, “Ah, a writing competition for 8-12 year olds. OK. I’ll pitch it at 8-10.” I knew immediately how important it is to use some challenging vocabulary: I have not stinted on using the right word in my book, even if it is quite a difficult one. I am pleased about this. It has taught me what some children like to read, although I do not expect all nine-year-olds to like my novel – of course I don’t. (It’ll hurt, but, writing this two days before publication, I am very brace-brace; bit like as a child in the queue for the rollercoaster at Alton Towers.)

It has given me the opportunity to share books with children, and watch their reactions. It has helped me become an author through my knowledge and love of the hundreds of children I have taught and the hundreds of books I have read. It has allowed me to immerse myself in a world full of the best imagination (children’s) and stay surprised and amazed and happy. Those writing assessments I had to get up at 4am to mark? Well, when a child crafts the most perfect sentence or paragraph, you are filled with joy.

Writing has also helped me become a better teacher. Which is a flip side that I did not expect. But in a process that has had so many wonderful surprises along the way, becoming a better teacher is a little bit of magic all of its own.

Emma Cox is the author of Malkin Moonlight, published this week by Bloomsbury. She is head of English atExeter Cathedral School.

Click here to read the Class Book Review of Malkin Moonlight

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‘They only want to cross the wall so they have a safe place to raise their kittens’

Joanne Cummins writing for the TES

15th July 2016 at 08:03

Teacher review

Malkin Moonlight is the debut book from teacher Emma Cox, winner of the National Literacy Trust’s new children’s author prize 2015.

As a kitten, Malkin escapes the clutches of death and is touched by the moonlight – he’s destined for something special.

Now on his third life, Malkin falls in love with Roux, a domestic pet. Together they explore the beaches, walls and secret places of the night. Roux teaches Malkin to read and Malkin teaches Roux to be brave. When Roux’s owners decide to sell up their business and move away, it seems as though their relationship will come to end, but Roux’s newfound bravery helps her run away and back to Malkin.

Guided by their seagull friend, the pair end up at the local recycling centre. They soon discover that the centre is home to two very separate tribes of warring cats. Can Malkin finally realise his destiny and bring peace, before it’s too late?

I loved this book. It felt as though you were being drawn into a secret world that had existed undetected for generations. The magical elements of being touched by moonlight, use of the sixth sense and the moving description of the passing of the cats’ lives added to the mystical atmosphere being woven around you.

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Another interesting theme in this book is that of “us” and “them” – something which is evident in the ongoing rivalry and mistrust between Foss’s gang in the recycling yard and The Putrescibles (headed by the fearsome and bitter Toxic), who live the other side of the wall where the toxic and dangerous waste is dumped.

The Putrescibles claim they only want to cross the wall to the other gang’s side so they have somewhere safe to raise their kittens and a steady supply of food and clean water. But, because of a deep-seated distrust caused by a long-forgotten argument, the other cats won’t allow them to cross over and live with them – they are concerned there won’t be enough for everybody.

I feel that this theme cleverly mirrors the crisis our society is facing at the moment, with fear and distrust of immigrants seemingly being the overwhelming reason that people voted leave in the recent EU referendum. This part of the book would provide an excellent starting point for a discussion with children about the rights of others and the current immigration situation, and about how they think some of these issues could be resolved.

To me, this book also had echoes of the excellent Varjak Paw by SF Said, with a young cat going on a journey of self-discovery, facing adventures and difficulties along the way. Interestingly, this is something which was also picked up by our pupil-reviewers, who had studied Varjak in class.

Joanne Cummins is literacy manager at Chalk Ridge Primary School in Hampshire. She tweets as@BookSuperhero2

Pupil reviews

I found it so interesting, I couldn’t put it down! I loved how Emma Cox added in the nine-lives feature. OF COURSE I would recommend this to a friend!
Orla, 9

I liked that Malkin was named by the moon, after being thrown in the river with his siblings. Malkin and Roux were my favourite characters because I liked that they got married. It reminded me ofVarjak Paw and I would recommend it to young readers.
Frances, 9

I really enjoyed this book and it was very “popping”. My favourite part was when Malkin and Roux travelled to the recycling centre. I would recommend this to a confident reader.
Shreyas, 9

The book is very well-written and good, but the beginning is a bit depressing (it gets a lot better though!). I would recommend this for all ages.
Jamie, 9

If you or your class would like to write a review for TES, please contact Adi Bloom at adi.bloom@tesglobal.com

Click here to read Emma Cox’s blog explaining how writing has made her a better teacher

Want to keep up with the latest education news and opinion? Follow TES on Twitter and like TES

Words for Life Interview

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What books did you read when you were a child?
I read a lot as a child. My mother was a children’s librarian, and she was in charge of teaching me to read and write. These are the two things I could do really well. My father was in charge of maths and, much later, teaching me to drive. I cannot drive and I am no good at maths, but I don’t really blame him. I remember reading Where The Wild Things Are, Winnie The Pooh, The Tiger Who Came To Tea, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Children of Green Knowe. I loved My Naughty Little Sister. I remember when I was really small putting my fingers in the holes of The Very Hungry Caterpillarand wanting to eat the lollipop.

If you could be a storybook character who would you be?
Easy! Lyra Belacqua! In this universe and any other.

What is the best thing about reading?
Being transported. Also, crying: then you know you’ve really believed in the story. Oh and watching the children’s faces when they are absorbed in a story. Like I’m doing right now.

What is your all-time favourite book?
You cannot be that unkind to me. Please let me choose four: For Esme With Love And Squalor (J.D. Salinger), The Sea Thing Child (Russell Hoban and Patrick Benson),Northern Lights (Pullman) and the collected works of Shakespeare. I am really sad I cannot have five because this means I cannot include the poetry of Keats, which feels wrong. Oh, and I absolutely love The Bunker Diary by Kevin Brooks. I feel I have cheated a little on this question. I liked it very much.

Other than reading books what is the most important thing a parent can do to help develop their children’s communication skills?
Argue with them. In a good, loving way of course. It is really important to eat together, and discuss topical issues, such as you might read in First News, and debate. The ability to see both sides of an argument turns later into the ability to write really good essays, and this is an important skill right through your education.

How big a part did your parents play in encouraging your writing skills?
Massive. They still do.

How do you encourage your children or grandchildren to read, what books do you enjoy reading with them?
I don’t have any children of my own, but I can tell you some of the books I study with my classes: A Monster Calls, Bog Child, Wolf Brother, Rooftoppers, Northern Lights, The Graveyard Book, Arthur and his Seeing Stone, Lord of the Flies, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, the poetry of T.S Eliot and Ted Hughes. I encourage the children by giving them the best literature I can and teaching them why it is so delicious.

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Emma Cox is Head of English at Exeter Cathedral School. She loves reading and writing and spends her whole day talking about literature to the wonderful children she teaches.Her first book, Malkin Moonlight, won the National Literacy Trust and Bloomsbury’s New Children’s Author Prize and is out now.

From Words for Life.

 

Book review for the TES; Wolf Hollow

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Wolf Hollow was ‘a little tedious’ and featured ‘the most stereotypical female protagonist I’ve ever read’, our pupil reviewers say. Their teacher, however, disagrees.

 

Title: Wolf Hollow
Author: Lauren Wolk
Publisher: Corgi Children’s

Pupil reviews

The video reviews by Cosmo and Elenour may be found here.

Eleanor, 13: “I felt that the characters did not have enough depth to continue on the journey that they started so well.”

Cosmo, 11: “The plot was mostly predictable, with a few half-baked twists that I saw coming.”

Teacher review

This is a beautiful book, and I loved it. It is a brand new book, and yet it felt familiar, and so my mind curled up with it. Lauren Wolk has the ability to stun with a very simple sentence, and a captivating, lyrical voice that evoked the feeling of being a 12-year-old American girl in 1943. I want to say evoked perfectly, and yet how do I know what 1943 in America felt like? Still, I was convinced that I was there. And this is one of those books that stays and stays with you. I’m still living it now. The tone is in my head. It’s not washed off at all: not a watercolour. An oil painting.

I loved seeing the world through our protagonist Annabelle’s eyes and watching the people who populated her days and framed her life in a cast of utterly convincing, perfectly constructed characters. Wolk writes so beautifully she can be generous with her characters; she can almost waste them. Each one is so perfect, you want more of them, and yet you see them through the limitations of Annabelle’s eyes. It’s very clever.

Betty Glengarry: “the dark-hearted girl who came to our hills and changed everything” is a fantastic character. Her name sounds to Annabelle “like a name from a song,” immediately contrasting the beauty of one character with the incorrigible darkness of the other. Betty lies in wait for Annabelle on the path that leads into Wolf Hollow, “her head down like a dog’s when he’s thinking about whether or not to bite”. She threatens to take a rock to the head of Annabelle’s little brother, James, if she does not give in to her blackmail.

Listen to her: “What kind of a name is Annabelle? You’re the rich girl. It’s a rich girl name…You got a purple window. I never heard of a purple window before, ’cept in a church or a kingdom…Tomorrow you bring me something or I’m going to beat you with this stick.”

And so Annabelle is targeted, she says, simply: “I was afraid in a way I hadn’t known before.”

But see the beauty – Betty is horrible, frightening, awful; we worry deeply for Annabelle; Betty does the worst things one can imagine. And yet we see that, like all the best characters, Betty is vulnerable. She’s jealous of Annabelle, of her family, her perceived wealth, her purple window. And who is Betty? Where has she come from? And has she had much love?

Isn’t it funny how when you encounter a bad character you want them gone, you want them gone, you want them gone. So you almost speed up reading them; and yet, upon reflection, weren’t they the most fascinating character of all? I disliked Betty, I was afraid of her, and yet I worried about her. Now, that takes some writing.

It feels as if Wolk was born to tell this story. The sense of time and place is impeccable: she’s preserved it in much the same way as Little House on the Prairie, or Anne of Green Gables does. It’s like walking into a museum, and then, in the next second, all the items are fresh and purposeful. The ironed gingham dresses are ready for church, the lunch pails are clanking, there’s a mounted telephone, a family photograph “pressed in the family Bible, brown as summer dust”. Inside, the home is “filled with things they’d made. All of it worn to softness”.

And then the gorgeous imagery: the sounds of hammering in the distance, with the upclose scent of kerosene and smoke and meat and big saucepans of soup and, closer still, the fly that had “come to light on the spatter of blood. I watched it drinking”, while a squashed copperhead snake is wearing the imprint of the boot that killed it, and later tomatoes from August and the warm roll with a coin of butter inside. Delicious.

That roll is eaten by a character called Toby who laughs when he eats it: “Just one quick burst.” Afterwards, Annabelle gives Toby Treasure Island to read. How perfect. I wanted to dive into the following hours of Toby’s life that we will never know, and experience him reading that book for the first time.

Toby was my favourite character, the most perfectly realised one of all. Toby is the war hero, the gentle man. It is impossible not to love him: he is an innocent, ruined, like so many of the best characters in American literature, and he stands for all that is beautiful in this world. I’ve always loved this about American literature. I thought of To Kill A Mockingbird, but also I was reminded of Hemingway, Steinbeck and Salinger (and I can give no greater compliment than that).

You know you are absorbed in a book when you speak aloud. Chapter seven made me do this. The simplicity of the language was extraordinary. The first sentence of chapter eight made me say, “Oh no!” Couldn’t help it. The description throughout is beautiful: “Beyond that, she was as pale as February”, and all the figurative language is rooted deeply in the landscape, so the whole book hums.

This would be a wonderful book study for Years 6, 7, 8 or beyond. There is no swearing, and nothing too controversial. I happily recommend it to teachers and school librarians. I hope you love it as much as I did.

If you or your class would like to write a review for TES, please contact Adi Bloom, on adi.bloom@tesglobal.com